EU launches election observer mission in Ethiopia

The European Union on Friday launched its observer mission for upcoming elections in Ethiopia, which rights groups say have already been tainted by political repression.

In the aftermath of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s hotly disputed victory in 2005, about 200 protestors were shot. An unknown number of opposition figures, including Birtukan Mideksa, head of the Unity for Democracy and Justice party, remain imprisoned.

The government in Addis Ababa accused the EU’s chief observer at the time of helping to spark the violence, but the head of the 2010 mission, Thijs Berman, emphasised the mission’s neutrality.

“I know there has been criticism of the former EU mission, but we will carry out our mission knowing our responsibilities,” he told journalists in Addis Ababa. “We wont interfere.”

Human rights groups and the opposition have accused Zenawi’s government of suppressing political opposition in the country.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Zenawi’s ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has tightened its grip on society since the previous poll and brooks no opposition.

Analysts expect a landslide victory for the government in the polls, which are set to take place on May 23.

“If as expected … the party wins a landslide victory it is unlikely to be a victory of democracy,” Georgette Gagnon, Africa director for HRW, told journalists in Nairobi in March. “It will be a vindication of a strategy of oppression and control.”

Ethiopia denies the accusations.

The EU mission consists of 10 experts, 90 long-term observers and more than 60 short-term observers, operating on a budget of €8-million. — Sapa-dpa

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