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ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia's highest court on Tuesday rejected a case brought by the country's opposition against the ruling party's landslide May election victory, finally exhausting legal appeals for the defeated parties.
The ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and its allies won 545 seats in the 547-member parliament. Both a European Union observer mission and the United States criticised the overwhelming victory.
"The Cassation court rejected our appeal -- they say there are no substantial reasons to reconsider the result," Negaso Gidada, a leader of the biggest opposition coalition, Medrek, told Reuters. "Legally, that was the final step."
The country's Court of Cassation had the power to overturn a previous Supreme Court ruling that the opposition did not have enough evidence to force a rerun.
Ethiopia's National Electoral Board (NEBE) has also rejected an opposition appeal for lack of evidence, though Medrek says it submitted a dossier of complaints.
Medrek and other opposition parties alleged widespread pre-poll intimidation during a campaign in which both sides claimed candidates and activists were murdered. Medrek also said there was some vote rigging.
Eight-party Medrek won just a single parliamentary seat in the poll. The other seat went to an independent candidate.
The aftermath of the May 23 poll is being watched by Western diplomats in a country that is a growing destination for investment and is Washington's key ally in the Horn of Africa, where it is seen as standing against Islamic militancy.
At Ethiopia's last elections in 2005, an opposition coalition claimed a fix after the EPRDF and its allies won 327 seats. Riots erupted in the capital on two separate occasions. Security forces killed 193 protesters and seven policemen died.
The top opposition leaders were jailed accused of sparking the trouble. The government has warned politicians against provoking violence this time.
Negaso, a former president of Ethiopia, said Medrek's leaders would now meet to examine the constitution to see if there was another way they could appeal against the election result. He did not rule out street protests.
Lawyers in Addis Ababa told Reuters there could be no further court challenges.
A European Union observer mission said the election was marred by the EPRDF's use of state resources for campaigning and the United States said the government's next steps could shape the future of U.S. ties to the country.