Low turnout in Egypt elections

Opposition boycott poll as government attempts to end protests over high prices.

    Ruling party candidates were the only people standing in 70 per cent of the available council seats [EPA]

    Police deployed

    With the government under pressure following two days of demonstrations, police were stationed outside Cairo polling stations for the vote.

    The state-run Middle East News Agency (Mena) said that the interior ministry had set up "a tight security plan ... to guard the polling stations from the outside".

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    Tarek Zaghloul of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights told the AFP news agency that his group had decided not to formally monitor the elections.

    "We took the decision because of the fact that opposition candidates have had such trouble registering and [the seats] are going straight to the ruling party," he said
    Zaghloul said his group had received reports that members of the opposition liberal Al-Wafd party had been banned from entering polling stations to vote, as well as reports of weak turnout.
    Another organisation, the Egyptian Association for Supporting Democracy (EASD), said its observers were barred from entering polling stations in at least six provinces, and some were detained.

    Voting cancelled

    Voting was cancelled in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla el-Kobra after police had used tear gas as about 7,000 protesters hurled stones toward them on Monday.
    About 300 people have been arrested, including an Al Jazeera cameraman and his assistant, and 90 injured since the protests began.

    Textile workers celebrated after the
    prime minister offered them a bonus [AFP]

    One teenage boy was killed after a rubber bullet hit him at close range, Amr el-Kahky, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Egypt, said.

    Egypt's prime minister moved to calm the situation in Mahalla on Tuesday by offering workers a 30-day salary bonus and promising to address their concerns about healthcare and wages.

    "We know Mahalla is suffering and you have passed through many crises," Ahmed Nazif told workers at a state-run textle factory that employs 25,000 people.

    "But it is through crises that men prove their mettle."

    Workers in the hall cheered Nazif, but many people remained sceptical about his promises.

    "What Nazif has said, we've heard it all before, what's new? They really have no idea how we suffer here," Rashad Fathi, a factory worker who says his monthly wage of $34 is not enough to feed his four children, said.
    Strikes planned

    Momentum had been gathering for another strike planned for 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."
    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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