Ethiopia to hold delayed elections on June 21 - vote board

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ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia's twice-delayed national and regional elections will now take place on June 21, but security and logistical problems will delay voting still further in some areas, organisers said on Thursday.

The announcement that officials had been unable to hold voter registration in some hotspots thrusts a spotlight on the frequent outbreaks of unrest in parts of Africa's second most populous nation.

Voting will be delayed in the Metekel zone in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region bordering Sudan, the electoral board said. The region is host to Ethiopia's strategic $4 billion hydropower dam.

Metekel has seen a number of deadly clashes blamed on ethnic tensions; at least 222 people were killed there in December and scores have been killed since.

Voting will also be postponed in four zones in Oromiya and parts of Amhara region around the town of Ataye, said Soleyana Shimeles, spokeswoman of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE).

Ataye was burned down last month and around 200 people were estimated to have been killed, officials said.

At least 358,000 people have been displaced due to conflict in the Shewa and Oromo Special Zones of Amhara Region, the U.N. said last week. Ataye is in North Shewa.

Voting is also delayed in seven constituencies in the southeastern Somali region due to complaints and irregularities, Soleyana said.

DELAYS, TENSIONS

She declined to give a full list of places where is polling is delayed, saying there would be an announcement soon. Voter registration had not been held in all these areas "due to security reasons," she said.

Those areas will hold a vote before a national government is formed, she added, without giving details.

But voting is due to go ahead in some other areas that have seen outbreaks of violence, including along the border between Amhara and Oromiya, the country's two most populous provinces.

The government had already announced elections would not be held in the northern province Tigray, where the military is fighting a regional insurgency that erupted in November.

The national vote was originally scheduled for August 2020, but that was scrapped due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Tigray's regional government held its own elections in September in defiance of the ban, setting it on a collision course with the federal government.

The government initially intended to hold the overall national vote on June 5, but last week the National Electoral Board said it was postponed again due to logistical problems.

The board announced the new June 21 date on Thursday, without going into further details on the reasons.

Overall, 36.24 million Ethiopians have registered to vote in the elections, Soleyana said. Ethiopia's population is around 109 million, but exact figures, including the number of eligible voters are hard to come by as the last national census was conducted in 2007.

(Reporting by Dawit Endeshaw; Writing by Ayenat Mersie; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Heavens)

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