ETHIOPIANS USE TEXTING IN ELECTION CAMPAIGN

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Strapped for cash, Ethiopians in the capital Addis Ababa have discovered a new way of campaigning for Sunday's elections -- the text message.

Mobile phones are a recent phenomenon in Ethiopia, one of the least developed countries in the world, only emerging in cities and towns in the past five years.

Locals in Addis Ababa have reported a flurry of last minute texting, urging voters to support the ruling party, widely expected to win a third five-year term, or the opposition coalition.

Many messages play on the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front's (EPRDF) election symbol, the worker bee.

Others feature dubious jokes involving the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy's (CUD) symbol, the two-fingered victory sign.

"Vote bee/If you vote bee/You will eat honey/If you vote for the two fingers/You will lose the three others," read one pro-government message.

An opposition supporter fired back with: "Not to vote CUD is a right but one that would prolong misery."

Recipients are then asked to forward the message, written in English or a local language, to five other people "if you love Ethiopia."

Locals say texting took off only recently when the state-controlled Ethiopian Telecommunications Company decided to scrap a 40 birr ($4.7) fee imposed on customers wanting to subscribe to the service.

"It's the first time such methods have been used. This is a clever way of campaigning that we have not thought of before," Getahun Amogen Belay, spokesman for the National Electoral Board, said.

He added that the texts may be used to reach areas that are prohibited from campaigning, such as military camps.

But many young Ethiopians think the texts are a bit of fun that won't change their minds one way or another. The election will be decided at the grassroots, where most of the 70 million population have never used a phone, let alone a mobile one.

"What really makes a difference are the debates on television," said 24 year-old Meseret Mulugeta. Although, she admits, one advantage of the chain messages was making new friends.

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