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“Behind an orderly facade, the government pressured, intimidated and threatened Ethiopian voters,” it says. “Whatever the results, the most salient feature of this election was the months of repression preceding it.”

The morning after the statement was released, tens of thousands of EPRDF supporters packed into Meskel Square in the center of Addis Ababa. Protesters said the event was a spontaneous display of anger at the international organization’s attempt to undermine the will of the Ethiopian people.

“Respect our freedom,” one protester boomed in English through a megaphone, while women trilled and the crowd cheered. “People are entitled to votes, and their choice cannot be determined by Human Rights Watch!”

While the crowd appeared unified in its anger for Human Rights Watch, the professionally printed signs, highly organized marches and the appearance of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi made the rally appear more like a victory party than a protest.

“This victory will make us proud,” he told the crowd from a bulletproof-glass box on a nearby balcony. He also held out an olive branch to nonsupporters. “We would also like to say that we respect the people who have not voted for us.”

Eskinder Nega, a journalist who was banned from practice after he was jailed in connection with his coverage of the 2005 elections, said the event had been planned weeks in advance. “They wanted this rally to reinforce their huge — and unbelievable, I might say — margin of victory,” he said.

Like Human Rights Watch, the United States and European Union criticized the election process, saying it favored the ruling party. The U.S. accused the EPRDF of intimidating and harassing the opposition in the years leading up to the elections, and said in a press release “an environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place.”

The U.S. gives Ethiopia roughly $1 billion in aid a year and considers the country a key ally against Islamic extremists in Somalia. But Ethiopia will not be bullied by U.S. opinion, Mr. Meles said.

“The United States has every right to use its taxpayers’ money as it sees fit,” he said at a press conference in his office in the capital. “If they feel that the outcome of the elections are such that they cannot continue our partnership, that’s fine. We should be very grateful for the assistance they have given us so far, and move on.”

The European Union observation team was more cautious in its critique, but agreed that the cards were stacked against the opposition parties. In its preliminary report, the EU said the EPRDF used government resources for campaign purposes, had unfair access to the state-run media and blocked other news sources, such as Voice of America broadcasts. And without a national voting list, certain kinds of fraud may have gone undetected, like double voting.

Mr. Meles dismissed the EU critique, saying it was based on opinion and unproven allegations, not facts. The election, he said, was “recognized as a legitimate one, a credible one, by everyone with a sense of justice. Everyone with a modicum of a sense of justice recognized that fact.”

EU chief observer Thijs Berman also offered praise for the election, saying ballots were confidential, voter turnout was high and the day was peaceful. He said he had heard allegations of voter harassment and intimidation, but had not seen any proof.

But a climate of fear surrounding the elections makes it difficult to gather information, he added. “People are very cautious to express their opinion,” Mr. Berman said. “People are very cautious who is listening when they speak with you — not to make mistakes.”

Outside the offices of the opposition Unity for Justice and Democracy party, some angry young members were not afraid to speak their minds.

“Always, we are practicing false democracy here in Ethiopia,” said 19-year old Achame Lazarus, who spent Election Day in a polling station as an observer for the opposition. “Things are going not on the right track.”

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