December 1, 2005

Police block polls in Egypt, one man shot to death

By Mohammed Abbas

KAFR EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) - Voters fought with riot
police restricting access to the polls in the last stage of
Egyptian elections on Thursday and the Muslim Brotherhood said
the government was trying to limit Islamist gains in

One man was shot to death outside a polling station where
police were holding voters back, the third death in the
elections. Rights activists said police shot the man, but the
authorities denied it.

The Muslim Brotherhood has posed the strongest challenge to
the ruling National Democratic Party, or NDP, increasing its
seats in the chamber by more than 400 percent. The Islamist
group says the government wants to stop it winning more seats.

Leading Brotherhood member Essam el-Erian said attempts to
stop people voting for his group were more determined than on
previous voting days. Some 730 Brotherhood activists had been
arrested in the past three days to weaken its chances, he said.

Riot police surrounded polling stations in the Nile Delta
and let only a trickle of voters through their lines.
Frustrated voters threw stones at security forces, who used
tear gas and sticks against crowds in several places, witnesses

"The police plan is to tire out voters so that they go
home. Everyone here is going to vote Brotherhood," Sayed
Ibrahim, a Brotherhood supporter, said outside a polling
station in Dessouk, a town in Kafr el-Sheikh province north of

The election death toll climbed to three when Gomaa Saad
el-Ziftawi was shot dead in Kafr el-Sheikh. The Egyptian
Organization for Human Rights said he was a supporter of a
leftist politician and was killed by police.

The Interior Ministry said he was an NDP supporter and the
police never used live bullets in civil disturbances.

Some 20 Brotherhood and NDP supporters brawled outside
another polling station in Kafr el-Sheikh.

The government said Brotherhood supporters had broken
ballot boxes in one polling station and gathered in at least
one place to "cause disturbances." Two policemen were injured
in Damietta on Egypt's Mediterranean coast, it said.

The United States kept to its policy of only mildly
criticizing one its closest allies in the Middle East and said
the election advanced Egypt on a path toward democracy.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack reiterated the
United States believed the government wanted a peaceful vote
but could not explain why the violence appeared at odds with
Egypt's pledges to hold such an election.

Still, he suggested the United States was dismayed at the
crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, even though Washington
supports Egypt's official ban on the group. He noted that in
any election the misapplication of a law "to impede the
peaceful political expression" would worry Washington.


The voting process is officially under judicial supervision
but the judges in charge cannot impose their will beyond the
confines of the polling stations.

"I know what they (the riot police) are doing but there's
nothing I can do about it," said one judiciary official in
Bassat, three hours north of Cairo. He asked not to be

The Egyptian Association for the Support of Democracy, an
independent monitoring group, said one judge had threatened to
walk out of a polling station with the ballot boxes if the
police did not admit voters.

The Brotherhood, which had 15 seats in the outgoing
parliament, has won 76 of 444 elected places so far. The
authorities restricted voting in the previous stage of the
poll, but the Brotherhood still managed to win 42 seats.

The ruling party has 214 seats so far.

Voting was peaceful on Thursday in some places, including
Sohag province in the south. Violence has been less serious
than in the last vote in 2000, when 10 people were killed.

The final two-day stage will decide 136 seats.

The Brotherhood is contesting only 49 places as part of its
strategy of not provoking the authorities. Islamist candidates
are contesting the seats as independents.

The Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera said security forces
detained one of its crew.

Police also held Reuters correspondent Amil Khan in Sandoub
for about an hour, saying they needed to check his identity.

Runoffs between the top two candidates will be held on
December 7 for seats where no candidate has won a clear

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Wright and Tom Perry in
Cairo, Anil Khan in Sandoub and Saul Hudson in Washington)