- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 21, 2005

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Foreign donors appealed for calm yesterday as the first preliminary returns from last weekend’s elections showed the opposition more than doubling its parliamentary seats.

With fierce disputes over the credibility of last Sunday’s vote and complaints about the slowness of the release of results, ambassadors from 21 foreign nations urged the Ethiopian government, opposition and people to be patient and respect the authority of the national election board.

“The Ambassadors Donors Group calls upon all political parties to be calm and patient as the tabulation process is under way,” it said in a statement published in Ethiopian newspapers.

Describing the situation as a “historic time,” the group also urged all parties “to maintain integrity in the vote tabulation process and to respect the expressed will of the people at the ballot box.”

The statement came as the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia began to release official preliminary results from a handful of the country’s 547 constituencies with the opposition posting large gains.

With results from 41 districts tabulated, the board said 29 parliamentary seats had been won by the two main opposition groups, with eight going to the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

Before the election, the opposition parties in the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEFD) had held only 12 seats in parliament.

Among the 41 constituencies reporting results, 21 were in Addis Ababa and were all taken by the CUD with large majorities, according to the board.

Final official results are to be released on June 8.

The capital, where Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has banned all demonstrations for one month, is allocated 23 seats in parliament and the opposition claims to have won them all.

While the ruling party has conceded defeat in Addis Ababa it has claimed to have won a majority in parliament with at least 300 seats based on strong rural support.

The opposition, which accuses the EPRDF of massive vote rigging and fraud, says it has won at least 223 seats and on Friday warned of “grave consequences” if tainted results are released.

The election board said it had received 54 complaints, mostly from the opposition.

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