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Consideration of transient stability constraints in optimal power flow (OPF) problems is increasingly important because modern power systems tend to operate closer to stability boundaries due to the rapid increase of electricity demand and the deregulation of electricity markets. Transient stability constrained OPF (TSCOPF) is however a nonlinear optimization problem with both algebraic and differential equations, which is difficult to be solved even for small power systems. This paper develops a robust and efficient method for solving TSCOPF problems based on differential evolution (DE), which is a new branch of evolutionary algorithms with strong ability in searching global optimal solutions of highly nonlinear and nonconvex problems. Due to the flexible properties of DE mechanism, the hybrid method for transient stability assessment, which combines time-domain simulation and transient energy function method, can be employed in DE so that the detailed dynamic models of the system can be incorporated. To reduce the computational burden, several strategies are proposed for the initialization, assessment and selection of solution individuals in evolution process of DE. Numerical tests on the WSCC three-generator, nine-bus system and New England ten-generator, 39-bus system have demonstrated the robustness and effectiveness of the proposed approach. Finally, in order to deal with the large-scale system and speed up the computation, DE is parallelized and implemented on a Beowulf PC-cluster. The effectiveness of the parallel DE approach is demonstrated by simulations on the 17-generator, 162-bus system.