The second round of Egypt’s month-long legislative elections turned violent on Sunday and the opposition Muslim Brotherhood said scores of its supporters had been detained.
The elections – held in stages over a month – claimed their first victim when mobs outside a polling station in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria killed the driver of an independent candidate, the interior ministry said.
Many more people were injured, with independent monitors reporting street fighting and other forms of election-related violence in towns across the Nile Delta, Fayoum oasis and Upper Egypt where polling took place.
At stake is the credibility of promises made by President Hosni Mubarak under US and domestic pressure to usher in a new era of political reform after 24 years in power.
After years in which opposition has been forcibly suppressed, the Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as the only organised group able to make a dent in the ruling National Democratic party’s (NDP) overwhelming parliamentary majority.
The movement has been banned since 1954 but its members are running as nominally independent.
In a series of statements, the interior ministry portrayed Sunday’s violence as directed against the ruling NDP and said supporters of the Brotherhood had attacked rival candidates.
Civil society groups including the Independent Committee on Election Monitoring blamed much of the violence on thugs allied to Mr Mubarak’s NDP.
The Nile Delta town of Damanhour was the scene of a particularly intense battle between a prominent Brotherhood member and a close ally of Gamal Mubarak, the president’s son and possible successor.
“As we speak a school being used as a polling station has gone up in flames,” Mohamed Abdul Aziz, a lawyer and rights activist said by phone from the town. “The violence is preventing people from voting. It is not just directed against the Brotherhood, it is against all opposition,” he said.
Mohamed Habib, the banned Islamist movement’s deputy leader, said as many as 345 supporters had been detained in what appeared an attempt to prevent the movement consolidating its foothold in parliament. The interior ministry said only 14 people had been arrested.
In the run-up to the first round of voting in Cairo and other governorates last week, Muslim Brotherhood candidates were able to campaign freely for the first time using religious slogans.
The group won 34 of 164 contested seats, more than doubling the number it holds in the current parliament with only 52 candidates competing.
The NDP won 68 per cent of contested seats in the first round, after renegades winning as independents rejoined the party.
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