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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 November 2005, 23:39 GMT
Violence mars Egyptian election
Egyptian riot police block the entrance of a polling station in Alexandria
Riot police restricted access to some polling stations
The latest round of Egypt's elections has been marred by reports of attacks on voters, mass arrests and riot police blocking some polling stations.

The opposition Muslim Brotherhood, which had a strong showing in earlier rounds, says more than 600 of its members were arrested.

Election monitors say gangs from rival political groups attacked voters with knives and clubs.

They also say police blocked access to voting booths in pro-Brotherhood areas.

The Muslim Brotherhood is officially banned but its candidates have been standing as independents in these parliamentary elections.

The group has won 47 of the 186 seats up for grabs in the first two rounds of the three-stage process, making them so far the largest opposition force in the People's Assembly.

The ruling National Democrat Party (NDP) is expected to win the elections, but analysts say it has been shaken by the Muslim Brotherhood's strong showing.

'Thugs and fanatics'

Saturday's vote was a run-off for constituencies where no candidate won an outright majority in the second-round ballot six days ago.

There were reports of attacks on voters and election workers in many parts of the country.

Muslim Brotherhood supporters with a banner reading: "Islam is the solution"
The banned Muslim Brotherhood has done well so far in elections

In the Nile Delta village of Hayatim, a gang of more than 20 wielding machetes, sticks and guns attacked Brotherhood organisers outside polling stations.

And in nearby Bolqina, where support for the Brotherhood runs high, voters said "thugs" allied to the NDP fired guns in the air and beat voters, including women.

"The security forces were looking on as we were being attacked," claimed one woman, Mawaheb Mongged.

Bolqina's government-appointed mayor blamed the Brotherhood.

"They are thugs and fanatics. We are trying as much as we can to have a clean process that goes smoothly," Essam Amin el-Sebaie told the Associated Press.

The Independent Committee on Election Monitoring (ICEM) has blamed both sides for specific instances of violence.

'Orderly' elections

Observers have also complained that riot police blocked access to some polling stations in areas where the Brotherhood is believed to be popular.

"Voters are being forcefully barred from entering the polling stations (and) many polling stations are empty," said human rights activist and elections' monitor, Negad el-Borai.

"The aim is to prevent the voters from casting ballots and thus tampering with the results would be easy."

In Egypt's second city, Alexandria - where dozens of Brotherhood organisers and supporters were earlier arrested, according to the group - police closed all roads around one polling station.

They later let one person through every 15 minutes, Reuters news agency reported.

"The polling station is closed because this area is popular with the Brotherhood," said one NDP organiser, who asked not to be identified. "If we open, they will come and make problems."

According to senior judge Hesham el-Bastawy, judges in some of the areas affected were considering calling off the vote and had reported being insulted by police.

A senior Muslim Brotherhood official, Ali Abdel Fattah, said 680 of the group's members and supporters had been arrested across the country.

Security forces put the figure at nearer 150.

Interior ministry spokesman Ibrahim Hammid said police, who in some cases had to use tear gas, had detained 78 "troublemakers".

He denied reports of police preventing access to voters, or that any polling stations had been closed. The elections are "unfolding in an orderly manner," he said.

The final stage of the elections is due to be held in early December.





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