Violence mars last day of vote in Egypt

BADAWAY, Egypt – Police firing tear gas and rubber bullets blocked voters from reaching polling stations in several electoral districts around the country Wednesday, and at least eight people were reported killed on the violent and chaotic last day of Egypt’s fiercely contested parliamentary elections.

Clashes between riot police and irate voters broke out in several towns that were strongholds of opposition to President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. Police have increasingly intervened in the parliamentary vote, which was spread out over almost four weeks when it became clear that candidates representing the formally outlawed Muslim Brotherhood would win a significant number of the contested seats.

In Badaway, the Nile Delta hometown of one Brotherhood candidate, dozens of police officers blocked the streets and alleys leading to the lone polling station, preventing anyone from voting throughout the day. Youths occasionally rushed the cordon of black-clad and helmeted cops, who fired tear gas and rubber pellets in response.

“Why doesn’t the government just spare everyone the trouble and declare its own candidate the winner and skip the vote?” said Ahmed Farouk, a pharmacist who spent the day videotaping the sporadic melees.

“Our experiment in democracy has come to a bad end,” said Ghada Shahbender, a monitor for the independent human rights group We Are Watching. She said she toured four polling stations in the Delta region north of Cairo that were shut by police. At one, in the small town of Kafr Mit Bashar, townspeople tried to negotiate with police to let them vote. During the negotiations, the police began firing tear gas and beating voters with truncheons. Several people suffered bloody gashes on their heads and one child’s arm was broken, Shahbender said.

Kafr Mit Bashar is a stronghold of a candidate from the opposition Wafd Party who was running against the brother of a member of Mubarak’s presidential staff. It was one of a handful of places where Wafd had a chance in Wednesday’s runoff election, which followed a first round of balloting last week.

Ahmed Mecci, a judge and election monitor, told reporters in Cairo that police had sealed off 20 polling stations. Ibrahim Hammad, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, said there were “10 problems” at polling stations due to violent crowds.

There were major clashes in the northern Mediterranean town of Damietta, where television images showed police firing tear gas and rubber bullets outside of polling stations. Three men were killed in the town, hospital and human rights sources told the Associated Press.


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