April 14, 2010 / 11:27 AM / in 8 years

EU to send monitors for Ethiopian poll after row

* EU observers, Ethiopia fell out over 2005 poll

* Opposition groups complain of harassment, jailings

* Addis Ababa denies accusations of repression

ADDIS ABABA, April 14 (Reuters) - The European Union has agreed to monitor Ethiopia’s elections in May, nearly five years after Addis Ababa accused the EU’s chief observer in the last poll of helping to spark violence.

The U.S.-based Carter Centre declined an invitation to observe, saying there was not enough time to prepare for the May 23 vote in the impoverished nation on the Horn of Africa.

"(EU foreign affairs chief) Baroness (Catherine) Ashton last week decided to send a full observation team for the elections," EU ambassador to Ethiopia, Dino Sinigallia, said late on Tuesday on state-run Ethiopian television.

The monitoring team will be 200-strong and have a budget of about $10 million, Sinigallia said.

Next month’s election will be the first since a government victory in 2005 was disputed by opposition parties and some observers. Monitors said the poll fell short of global standards.

Security forces killed about 200 protesters and imprisoned the main opposition leaders in the aftermath of the vote five years ago.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had accused the chief EU observer of siding with the opposition and stoking the violence.

Some critics and analysts say that the EU presence at the coming election risked legitimising a fraudulent poll, in a country of 80 million people and more than 80 ethnic groups.

"The mission won’t be able to properly observe," one analyst, who did not want to be named for fear he would be refused entry to Ethiopia, told Reuters.

"At least two-thirds of the voters live more than two hours walk from a road. Unable to observe at a grass roots level, the EU will simply register complaints. The regime will deny. The mission has no mandate to investigate."

The opposition says the government scares people into voting for it.

For its part, the government says the opposition is divided and intent on discrediting the poll. Results are expected to be announced on June 21, a month after voting is due to begin. (Reporting by Barry Malone; Editing by Jack Kimball and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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