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Middle East
Egyptians vote amid poll boycott
Voting cancelled in northern city of Mahalla after riots leave one person dead.
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2008 20:05 GMT

About 300 people have been arrested, 90 injured and one boy killed in Mahalla [EPA]

Egyptians have begun voting in local elections boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition group, after a second day of protests over food prices and poor wages.
 
Only 30 per cent of seats are set to be contested on Tuesday as the ruling party of Hosni Mubarak, the president, has already won 70 per cent of the seats by default.
The Muslim Brotherhood had pulled out of the elections and called on Egyptians to boycott the polls in protest at the disqualification and imprisonment of most of its candidates by the authorities.
 
The results will be announced over five successive days beginning on Wednesday.
The Egyptian police have also arrested Al Jazeera’s cameraman and his assistant during their attempts to cover Mahalla city incidents, Al Jazeera reported.
 
Police were stationed outside Cairo polling stations, with the state-run Middle East News Agency (Mena) saying the interior ministry had set up "a tight security plan... to guard the polling stations from the outside".

Growing protests
 
The election takes place against a backdrop of protests over rising food prices and poor wages, which lasted for two days.
 

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Police fired tear gas as about 7,000 protesters hurled stones toward them in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla el-Kobra a day earlier.
 
About 300 people have been arrested and 90 injured since the protests began and one teenage boy was killed after a rubber bullet hit him at close range, Amr el-Kahky, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Egypt, said.

Voting in the city was cancelled on Tuesday and 15 of the 56 local council seats were then handed out to opposition parties, according to an official government document viewed by The Associated Press.
 
Zakariya Mahalawi of the opposition Democratic Front in Mahalla, said: "We were ready to go vote at the polls when we received a phone call from the election committee telling us that 15 candidates from the opposition and independents had been chosen."
 
Banners burned

Dr Maged Reda Botros, associate professor in political science at Hilwan University in Cairo, said the "rumour" of a "deal" was probably perpetuated by the Muslim Brotherhood who he claimed were "trying to undermine the legitimacy of the elections".

 

Some workers and residents were arrested after they destroyed a large portrait of President Mubarak and banners of his National Democratic party (NDP).
 
"There is a combined frustration at the government's failure to find resources to lower high prices and anger towards municipal council corruption," el-Kahky reported.

"The police presence is more visible today," he said. 
 
The poll takes place with a backdrop of protests
over rising food prices and poor wages [EPA]
"They have reinforced. At the moment the streets are quiet but everything develops when the working shift ends at the the Mahalla factory.
 
"When one person throws one stone, the rest of the people follow suit."
 
Botros said that those protesting were not factory workers but mostly youngsters between the ages of 15 and 21, many of whom he claimed were "professional bullies" marked as "dangerous" people by the Egyptian authorities.
 
But Mustafa Fouda, leader of workers from the textile factory, said on Tuesday: "The situation is calm but tense.
 
"The clashes could start again around 5 o'clock when the workers finish their shift and students finish class."
 
Momentum has been gathering for another planned strike on May 4.
 
A message on the Facebook social networking site, where 64,000 people joined the group calling for action, said: "We succeeded on April 6, so let's do it again on May 4."
 
Contest
 
The NDP has been fielding a candidate for every one of the 52,000 council seats up for grabs, with polls set to close at 7pm (1700 GMT).
 
Mohammed Abdel Meguid, 28, said from a Cairo polling station: "I've come to vote in the hope of having a life that is less hard, with no bread problems.
 
"We hope that these elections will change things a bit, if they're not rigged like the others when the NDP has always won."
 
The local elections have an unprecedented importance following a 2005 constitutional amendment requiring presidential candidates to secure the backing of councillors.
 
Parties with presidential ambitions, including the banned opposition Muslim Brotherhood whose members sit in parliament as independents, now need the support of at least 10 members of every local council in at least 14 provinces to stand.
 
The next presidential election is set for 2011, with many expecting the veteran 79-year-old Mubarak to stand down in favour of his son, Gamal Mubarak, a senior NDP member.
Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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