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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 January 2006, 16:10 GMT
Egypt releases Islamist detainees
Egyptian supporters of the Muslim brotherhood candidate Saber Nour stand in front of anti-riot police blocking the way to a polling station in al-Mansoura, north of Cairo
Polling was freer than past elections, but there were confrontations
Egypt has freed more than 450 Muslim Brotherhood activists arrested during last year's parliamentary elections, a spokesman for the Islamist group says.

But more than 300 members remain behind bars, Issam al-Aryan told reporters.

Islamist-backed candidates standing as independents made spectacular gains in the elections, although the Brotherhood is officially banned in Egypt.

Along with the arrests, the police also closed polling stations in strongholds of Muslim Brotherhood support.

The US had called on Egypt to ensure that people could vote freely and Amnesty International has expressed concern about the violence, intimidation and mass arrests in previous election.

The Brotherhood, founded in 1928, is officially outlawed but tolerated by the authorities. It outperformed officially recognised opposition parties during the elections.

Analysts said the Brotherhood's unprecedented success altered the balance of power between the government and the opposition in Egypt.

Under parliamentary immunity rules Islamist members will be able to challenge and question the ruling National Democratic Party's policies without fearing the usual arrests and harassment, said a BBC analyst.

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