Tuesday, November 23, 2010

US 'closely monitoring' arrests ahead of Egypt vote

Mon Nov 22, 2010

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States is "closely following" reports of arrests and intimidation ahead of Egypt's legislative elections and has expressed concerns to Cairo, the State Department said Monday.

"We are closely monitoring events that are happening in Egypt, reports of arrests and intimidation, and we have not hesitated to express our concerns directly to... Egyptian leaders," spokesman Philip Crowley said.

"We think this is a vitally important period for Egypt's future, and we continue to encourage them to do everything possible to ensure a free, fair and impartial election," he told reporters.

His remarks came as opposition and civil society groups stepped up criticism of the vote, the first round of which will be held on Sunday, and NGO monitors threatened not to observe the elections.

The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights said four people had so far been killed in campaign-related violence, without giving further details, after clashes in recent days between Muslim Brotherhood activists and security forces and between rival supporters of other parties.

Fourteen people were killed in the violence that attended the last parliamentary vote in 2005.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful opposition group in Egypt, has openly accused the government of rigging the vote by preventing its candidates from campaigning and arresting its supporters.

More than 1,200 members have been arrested since the Brotherhood, which is formally banned but runs candidates as independents, announced in October that it would participate in the vote, with 500 remaining in custody.

The group is fielding 130 candidates for the 508 seats in parliament.

Egyptian civil society groups on Monday threatened to boycott the poll because of obstacles to their mission and urged President Hosni Mubarak to intervene immediately to fulfill his pledge of free elections.

Last week Egypt accused the United States of meddling in its affairs after Washington called for foreign monitors in the election and US officials met with a group pressing for reform.

The parliamentary vote is to be followed next year by a presidential election for which Mubarak, who is 82 and has ruled Egypt for almost three decades, has yet to announce his candidacy.

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