Ana Maria Gomes has traded criticisms with the Ethiopian government ever since the European Union election observer mission she headed issued a report last summer saying the country’s parliamentary elections were marred by irregularities and fraud.
Today, Ms. Gomes continues to be critical of the government, this time for arresting opposition politicians who had called for peaceful protests.
Ms. Gomes, a Socialist member of the European Parliament from Portugal, met with Ethiopian lawmakers and opposition politicians at a parliamentary conference in the Scottish city of Edinburgh this week. She and other EU officials tried to get Ethiopia’s feuding political groups together to discuss their differences.
She expressed frustration at the lack of dialogue between the different sides, but singled out the Ethiopian government’s jailing of leading opposition politicians and journalists.
“We were pressing on both sides the need for a compromise, but of course that pressure has to be exerted mainly on the government, which is responsible for the repression we have,” she said.
She said the EU – along with the United States, United Nations and African Union -- should use their influence to get Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to release prisoners rounded up during demonstrations in early November – and to get all sides talking working on a peaceful resolution to their differences.
Ms. Gomes ruled out aid cuts to pressure Ethiopia’s leaders. But she said European donor states could provide direct assistance to organizations rather than the government.
“I don’t advocate sanctions in the sense of cutting aid to Ethiopia because of course it would be the people of Ethiopia who would be hurt,” Gomes told VOA. “There are ways to funnel the aid properly, not through government channels, but to the people directly through NGOs and empowering civil society.”
The Ethiopian government invited the EU mission to monitor the May 15th elections, but turned sharply critical when Ms. Gomes’s team said the election failed to meet international electoral standards and accused the government of human rights abuses for its crackdown on post-election demonstrators.
Prime Minister Meles then accused the EU observers of lying in their report, and state-run media launched a personal attack on Ms. Gomes. Mr. Meles defended the election, saying that the record number of opposition candidates and the huge voter turnout were proof that it was fair and democratic.
Ms. Gomes said the EU’s final election report, originally due out September 23rd, would be released soon. But she said its findings are little changed from the preliminary assessment that Mr. Meles so strongly condemned.