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22 die in Ethiopian election protests

New York Times

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — At least 22 people were killed and more than 100 wounded when Ethiopian security forces fired into crowds on Wednesday in a third day of unrest over last month’s disputed elections, medics and witnesses said.

The Ethiopian authorities said the police and troops opened fire on stone-throwing crowds who were looting shops, robbing banks, attacking the police and trying to free detainees.

The government blamed the main opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy for inciting the worst violence in Addis Ababa in four years.

“The government regrets very much” the loss of life, said Bereket Simon, Ethiopia’s information minister. “CUD, which is the perpetrator of the violence, will have to take responsibility,” he said, using the acronym for the opposition coalition.

The coalition said the protests were spontaneous actions from the people that it had not orchestrated.

The shootings followed two days of student protests and weeks of rising tensions over preliminary results from May 15 parliamentary elections, which the opposition group says were rigged by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.

The killings Wednesday were the worst in Addis Ababa since the police and security guards killed 41 people during April 2001 riots that followed a wave of student protests.

During the clashes, gunfire could be heard across the tense capital, where most shops, with the exception of bars and pharmacies, were closed.

Preliminary results from the election board showed the ruling party and its allies have enough seats to form the next government in the nation of 72 million people, the continent’s top coffee producer.

But the Coalition for Unity and Democracy increased its share of assembly seats by nearly tenfold, according to those results.

Official results are due on July 8.

Diplomats have said the elections were the most democratic in Ethiopia’s 3,000-year history. But EU election observers criticized the ruling party for using the state-owned media to shut out the opposition and said there had been irregular vote counting.

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