Widespread violence mars second round of Egyptian parliamentary elections

Widespread violence mars second round of Egyptian parliamentary elections


DAMANHUR, Egypt (AP) – Widespread violence marred the second round of Egypt’s parliamentary vote Sunday as opposition supporters and police clashed with knives, metal chains and Molotov cocktails, officials said. At least one person was killed and many were wounded.

The violence was in sharp contrast to the Nov. 9 first round of voting, which passed in relative peace and saw the banned opposition Muslim Brotherhood party double its representation in parliament.

There are 1,706 candidates competing in 72 constituencies in this round of elections.

Late Sunday, the Brotherhood said its count showed most of its 60 candidates had either won seats or gained sufficient votes to participate in run-off balloting Saturday. Interior Ministry officials said a partial tally showed at least six Brotherhood candidates had won outright. The top two vote getters in constituencies where no candidate wins an outright majority move to the run-off.

No figures were available for candidates of the ruling National Democratic Party or non-Islamic opposition contestants.

Police and Brotherhood supporters exchanged accusations over who started the melees, which also involved supporters of President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party.

Ibrahim Hammad, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, accused the Brotherhood of using thugs to intimidate voters and attack other candidates’ supporters.

But Brotherhood candidate Mustafa Awadallah accused the government of hiring men to cause trouble outside polling stations to create a pretext for closing them early.

“This is unbelievable government terrorism,” he said.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights also blamed the ruling party in a report Sunday.

Candidates associated with the Brotherhood, banned in 1954, won 34 seats in the first round of voting. While prohibited from formally becoming a political party, the Brotherhood fields candidates as nominal independents whose sympathies are widely known by voters.

The Brotherhood calls for implementing Islamic law but is vague about what that means. It advocates the veil for women and campaigns against perceived immorality in the media, but insists it represents a more moderate face of Islam than that followed in deeply conservative Saudi Arabia.

The government generally tolerates the group, which renounced violence in the 1970s, but hundreds of members have been detained in recent months amid increased protests against Mubarak, Egypt’s leader for 24 years.

The Brotherhood said about 300 people had been arrested across the country on Sunday. The Interior Ministry said hundreds were arrested, mostly Brotherhood members detained for inciting violence and rioting.

In Alexandria, a driver for an independent candidate was killed in the fighting, the human rights group and police said. Another independent group monitoring elections, the Independent Committee on Election Monitoring, said a taxi driver in Alexandria was also killed when rioters destroyed six cars outside a polling station, but police had not confirmed the death.

Earlier, a Brotherhood spokesman in Alexandria, Ali Abdel Fattah, said men had opened fire on the group’s backers in a downtown polling station, killing one man and wounding several other people. That report also could not be confirmed.

In Damanhur, about 135 kilometres north of Cairo, riots erupted outside 10 polling stations, with some Brotherhood supporters wielding knives and steel chains, a police official said.

Mohammed Hehmat, a Brotherhood supporter, said about 2,000 people were prevented from voting as police cordoned off polling stations before closing time.

A Brotherhood campaign worker, Sameh Bakr, said police fired tear gas, Molotov cocktails and bullets to keep voters away.

In the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, witnesses said a Brotherhood candidate’s brother was shot and wounded by the cousin of the NDP candidate.

The Egyptian human rights watchdog said one of its monitors was kidnapped in Port Said, another Suez Canal city, and that candidates’ representatives were being denied access to polling stations.

The NDP held an 80 per cent majority heading into the three-stage vote and won 112 seats in the first round. In all, 454 places in the parliament are up for election in the three-stage process. The vote concludes Dec. 1.