President Obama in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Monday, where he will convene a meeting to try to forge a peace in South Sudan. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Monday, where he will convene a meeting to try to forge a peace in South Sudan. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

ADDIS ABABA (New York Times)— President Obama twice called the government of Ethiopia “democratically elected” on Monday as he stood by the country’s prime minister, two months after elections that handed every seat in Parliament to the governing party and its allies.

Though human rights groups had called on Mr. Obama to use his visit to press for change, the president took a mild tone in his public remarks.

He gently urged the Ethiopian government to make room for opposition, while stressing his respect for the country and its challenges in emerging from a long era of monarchy and autocracy.

The elections in May were condemned by human rights groups as a sham. The government made it hard for opposition candidates to register, raise money and mobilize supporters, according to watchdog groups. Peaceful protesters were denied permits, harassed and in some cases arrested. News organizations were shut down and reporters harassed, threatened or arrested.

American diplomats were denied accreditation as election observers and prohibited from formally observing the process, according to the State Department, and the only international observers on the ground were from the African Union.

The State Department said at the time that it was “troubled” that opposition party observers were barred from some locations.