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Egyptian riot police battle voters in local elections
Egyptian riot police battle voters in local electionsBy Nadia Abou El-Magd  Riot police battled voters today, killing one person and blocking entry to polling stations in opposition strongholds in the third and final round of Egypt’s legislative elections. Police fired into a crowd in the Balteem district of Kafr el-Sheik, killing Gomaa el-Zeftawi, a fisherman, and woun
Thursday, December 1,2005 00:00
by (AP)

Egyptian riot police battle voters in local elections
By Nadia Abou El-Magd

 Riot police battled voters today, killing one person and blocking entry to polling stations in opposition strongholds in the third and final round of Egypt’s legislative elections.

Police fired into a crowd in the Balteem district of Kafr el-Sheik, killing Gomaa el-Zeftawi, a fisherman, and wounding 60 other people, said Mohammed el-Ashqar, a campaign worker for a Nasserite opposition candidate.

Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Ibrahim Hamad confirmed the killing of el-Zeftawi, the second fatality since the elections began Nov. 9, but he did not give a figure for the wounded. Minutes earlier Hamad had issued a statement saying polling had "unfolded in a smooth and peaceful manner."

In one village, men and women determined to vote resorted to sneaking into the polling station, putting up ladders to climb over back walls — out of sight of police barring the entrance — and slipping through bathroom windows to get in.

Voting proceeded normally in some towns, but in two villages visited by an Associated Press reporter — one the hometown of a Muslim Brotherhood candidate, the other of an independent candidate — police were blocking voters. In some southern towns, voters were intimidated by lines of police outside stations.

"I’m calling on his excellency, the president, to appoint the members of parliament because no one has been allowed to vote. ... It would save the money wasted on elections," Sameer Fikri, a would-be voter in the village of Sandoub, said sarcastically.

Under U.S. pressure to bring democratic reforms, President Hosni Mubarak’s government gave the banned Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamic movement, considerable leeway to campaign in the early stages of the three-part elections.

But police interference has intensified in the later rounds, after the Brotherhood scored unexpectedly large gains, increasing its representation in parliament more than fivefold.

In some towns, such as the Delta city of Zagazig, where a Brotherhood candidate was favored, voting proceeded without violence or intimidation. But in several constituencies, The Associated Press saw that voters had been barred.

In Balteem, supporters of the Nasserite candidate Hamdeen Sabahi began pushing and shoving riot police who blocked them from the polling station. The police tried to disperse the crowd with night sticks and tear gas, but voters responded by hurling stones, el-Ashqar said.

Finally, the police fired into the crowd, killing el-Zeftawi.

Earlier today, the Interior Ministry accused the Brotherhood of inciting violence and attacking judges in polling stations. It said heightened security measures were taken to prevent Brotherhood supporters from "terrorizing" voters for other candidates.

Hundreds of people lined up in front of a school used as a polling station in Sandoub, 75 miles north of Cairo — the hometown of Brotherhood candidate Saber Zakher — but they were prevented from approaching by lines of riot police, armed with sticks, rifles and tear gas.

A police lieutenant said "I don’t know" when asked why both polling stations in the village had been cordoned off. An AP reporter was barred from entering to ask the judges in the polling stations.

In the nearby town of Bussat, the smell of tear gas hung in the air as angry would-be voters shouted at police blocking the station. "There are no human rights here, only war and destruction," said resident Mustafa Mohammed. Behind the polling station, men and women clambered up ladders over the wall.

An independent candidate not connected to the Brotherhood, Faisal Ibrahim Hassanein, is running against a candidate from the ruling National Democratic Party in the Bussat area.

More than 10 million Egyptians were eligible to vote in today’s third and final round, where the last 136 of parliament’s 454 seats were being contested. Runoff elections will be held Dec. 7 in districts where no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote.

In the two earlier rounds of polling last month, Brotherhood candidates won 76 seats, up from 15 in the outgoing assembly. The NDP has won 201 seats, and other independent or opposition candidates have taken 25.

The Brotherhood, which has campaigned under the slogan "Islam is the solution," has been banned since 1954, but it has long been somewhat tolerated. Its candidates run as independents, although their allegiance to the Brotherhood is known to voters.

The first-round vote and runoff saw little violence, but after the Brotherhood’s strong showing, there was a crackdown in the second round and a runoff, with police and government supporters blocking or assaulting Brotherhood loyalists from some polling stations. At least one person was been killed.

The Paris-based press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, has condemned government-inspired violence and harassment, and Amnesty International has expressed concern over the second-round violence.

More than 500 Brotherhood supporters were arrested earlier this week, police said. About 1,300 Brotherhood loyalists are believed to have been arrested since polling began on Nov. 9. Many have been released, but hundreds are still in custody.

On today, voting was light but unhindered in the Nile Delta city of Zagazig. Voters walked into adjacent schools turned into polling stations — one for men, one for women — in a district where outspoken Muslim Brotherhood legislator Mohammed Morsi is seeking re-election.

Morsi, the leader of the Brotherhood-backed candidates in the outgoing parliament, has been a thorn in the government’s side for the past five years. But the NDP appeared not to have made a large effort to mobilize voters, as it did in Cairo constituencies where significant Brotherhood candidates ran last month.

In Tahta, 280 miles south of Cairo, 500 police were on roads leading to the polling station. Voters were not denied access, but some said they were afraid to cross the police ranks.

"I heard that the police have arrested so many people, especially those who vote for Brotherhood," said voter Ahmed Mohammed Abdel Salam, who supported the Muslim Brotherhood.

In nearby Shatoura, large numbers of police were also outside the town’s lone polling station. Police said they were there to prevent violence.


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