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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May, 2005, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Clashes tarnish Egypt referendum
Mubarak supporters
Not everyone appears to have known what they were voting for
Egypt is preparing to unveil the results of a referendum on whether to allow contested presidential elections.

Voting was marred by clashes, including the beating of opposition protesters by government agents and supporters.

Voter turn-out appeared very low in some areas, although analysts say it is impossible to judge the success of the opposition's call for a boycott.

Polls in Egypt generally suffer voter apathy bred by decades of authoritarian rule and ballot rigging, analysts say.

The opposition says the changes are meaningless because they are almost certain to exclude presidential challengers from outside the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

Official and pro-government newspapers hailed the process as a defeat for the boycott.

Confusion

According to initial estimates quoted by AFP news agency, turnout exceeded 70% in many regions - excluding Cairo - and 90% of voters said "yes" to the proposed reform.

Mubarak must stay as president, we're here to re-elect him
Voter in Cairo
However, correspondents in the capital reported barely a trickle of voters all day, and others in the provinces said it was far from a ringing endorsement.

"I can't say that more than 3-5% turned up today," said a returning officer at Cairo's Khedive secondary school polling station quoted by AFP.

The AFP report says some voters mistakenly thought they were voting on President Hosni Mubarak's re-election, not an amendment paving the way for a challenger to stand against him in September.

"Mubarak must stay as president, we're here to re-elect him," said one woman.

Under a headline saying Scandal of the Referendum, the opposition al-Wafd newspaper published photographs of two of its reporters casting ballots in six different polling stations in Cairo.

Women targeted

Although Wednesday's voting was generally peaceful, there are several reports of members of the opposition Kifaya movement being set upon by NDP supporters as the police stood by.

A female anti-government protester is arrested by plainclothes police
Reports say women were singled out by loyalist attackers
BBC correspondent Heba Saleh witnessed the security forces pinning about 50 Kifaya members against a wall, while a much larger crowd of NDP supporters chanted slogans accusing them of being traitors.

Activists who broke free of the security cordon were set upon and beaten by the NDP supporters.

Kifaya is a coalition of activists from left-wing, nationalist and Islamist backgrounds that has led calls for a boycott.

Women protesters in particular seemed to be targeted for beatings by both plainclothes state security agents and pro-Mubarak supporters, according to a report on Associated Press.

One woman was seen being punched and having her clothes torn off by Mubarak loyalists in Cairo, AP reported.

Police looked on as the woman screamed and then fainted, the report says. She was later reportedly prevented from filing a complaint about the incident at the local police station.



SEE ALSO:
Egypt arrests 15 on eve of poll
24 May 05 |  Middle East
Key Egypt opposition leader held
22 May 05 |  Middle East
Egypt parties oppose election law
17 May 05 |  Middle East
Country profile: Egypt
15 Jan 05 |  Country profiles


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