Judges on Saturday also said that in some instances, police beat voters to prevent them from casting ballots in the runoffs for the second round of three-stage parliamentary elections.

 

The deputy chief of the Egypt's Court of Cassation, Counsellor Hisham al-Bistawisy, who is a member of the election monitoring committee, declined to specify the number of constituencies in which voting was prevented.

"When some of the judges protested the police action and demanded that the centres be open to the voters, they were insulted and humiliated by the police," al-Bistawisy told Aljazeera.

 

"After that, the judges in these polling stations called for the suspension of voting, but that has not been implemented and the matter is still under consideration. Some judges are, however, determined not to participate further in monitoring the elections.

"This is a grave development," he said.

Brotherhood members arrested


Police have arrested more than 600 members and supporters of the banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood since late Friday evening. The arrested included 117 in Egypt's second-largest city of Alexandria, said group official Abdel Moneim Mahmoud.

"When some of the judges protested and demanded that the centres be open to the voters, they were insulted and humiliated by the police"

Counsellor Hisham al-Bistawisy,
deputy chief of the Egypt's Court of Cassation

Earlier, a police official said on condition of anonymity, as he was unauthorised to speak to the media, that about 140 Brotherhood members had been arrested in Alexandria, three Nile Delta provinces and the southern city of Qena.

Egypt's three-stage parliamentary elections are expected to return the ruling National Democratic Party of President Hosni Mubarak to power.

But the strong showing of the Brotherhood, which won 47 seats so far and tripled its number in the outgoing 454-member parliament, has been followed by widespread violence and complaints of voting irregularities.

Voting started at 8am (0600GMT) and runs to 7pm (1700GMT) in 122 seats across nine provinces that were not decided during the second stage of polls on 20 November.

10 million voters

More than 10 million people are eligible to vote on Saturday, according to Egypt's Middle East News Agency.

The third - and final - stage is scheduled for 1 December.

In Bolqina, an impoverished village 120km north of Cairo where support for the Muslim Brotherhood runs high, voters said "thugs" allied to the NDP attacked people gathering to cast their ballots.

"The security forces were looking on as we were being attacked," said Mawaheb Mongged, a female voter, who said men beat her on her back with wooden sticks.

Meanwhile Bolqina's government-appointed mayor blamed the Brotherhood for allegedly instigating the violence, but gave nor further details.

"They are thugs and fanatics. We are trying as much as we can to have a clean process that goes smoothly," said Essam Amin el-Sebaie as he sat on a chair outside the polling station.

Hundreds of helmeted and black-uniformed riot police officers were deployed outside the centre and prevented voters from entering for about one hour apparently until calm settled.

In the nearby village of Hayatem, voters said about 30 men wielding swords, wooden sticks and guns came in from outside the area and attacked a polling centre.

Voters beaten

Voter Affaf Abdel Salam, 30, said she saw the men beat people inside the centre and smash computers.

Female voters have spoken
of beatings and harassment

Zain el-Abedeen Mohammed, a 33-year-old social worker, said he would vote for the Brotherhood candidate "not out of sympathy with the Brotherhood, but out of hate for the National Democratic Party".

In the coastal city of Alexandria, the Brotherhood claimed its candidates and supporters were harassed and attacked, while some of the group's representatives were barred by security forces from entering polling centres.

242 candidates are contesting in Saturday's polls, including 41 from the Brotherhood, 10 from opposition groups and about 130 from the ruling NDP.

Initial results are expected late on Saturday, while final tallies are due in three days.