ALEXANDRIA, Egypt,(Reuters) – Egyptian police detained over 140 Muslim Brotherhood supporters and restricted voting on Saturday, day four of elections in which Islamists have made a strong showing, the Brotherhood and witnesses said.
In the Nile Delta village of Hayatim, men armed with machetes and clubs attacked Muslim Brotherhood organisers outside polling stations, helping to frighten off people who wanted to vote in the parliamentary elections, according to witnesses and election monitors.
Police picked up about 59 Brotherhood organisers in dawn raids in Alexandria before voting started, security sources said. The Brotherhood said police detained at least 82 supporters outside polling stations in the morning.
Brotherhood campaign worker Mahmoud Mohamed, one of several injured people taken to hospital in Hayatim, said he was standing outside a voting station when three men attacked him.
"I raised a chair to defend myself but I was hit on the head and shoulder," he told Reuters. His head was bandaged.
Another Brotherhood activist, Hani Mansour, was lying next to him in hospital with eight stitches in his head.
The elections on Saturday are especially heated after the Muslim Brotherhood won more seats than the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) in voting last Sunday.
The Islamist group now has 47 of the 444 elected seats in parliament and is well placed to add more on Saturday and in further stages of the elections, which end on Dec. 7.
Although the Brotherhood does not have enough candidates to break the NDP”s control over parliament, its electoral success has shaken the government and ruling party.
Independent monitors say the NDP and authorities have responded by rigging some results and deploying thugs to deter voting in areas where the Brotherhood is strong. The Interior Ministry says the Brotherhood is responsible for the violence.
Egyptian judges have joined a campaign to challenge election results, saying the official vote count in the Nile Delta constituency of Damanhour last week bore no resemblance to the results collected at individual polling stations.
The Brotherhood, which advocates political freedoms and wants to bring Egyptian law closer to Islamic law, is contesting 41 of the 121 seats at stake on Saturday, mostly in direct competition with President Hosni Mubarak”s NDP.
However, in many areas where the Islamic group is popular, riot police blocked access to polling stations or imposed severe restrictions on the rate at which voters could enter.
In the early hours the authorities brought large numbers of riot police into Alexandria, which saw some of the worst violence during the first round of voting last Sunday.
In the Ghorbal district, where the contest is between the NDP and a Brotherhood candidate, police closed off all roads leading to one polling station for the first few hours. They later let one person through every 15 minutes.
An NDP organiser, who asked not to be identified, said: "The polling station is closed because this area is popular with the Brotherhood. If we open, they will come and make problems."
Sharif Haroun, a lawyer with the Brotherhood candidate, said: "The situation”s the same in a lot of polling stations in the area. Police have surrounded them to prevent voters from entering. Then they let people in bit by bit to make it look like the turn-out is much lower here."
One man said he had been standing in line to vote for more than two hours. "I”ve been waiting since eight. They don”t want us to vote. They want to cast our votes for us, so the NDP candidate can win," said the man, who declined to be named.