CAIRO,(Reuters) – Egyptian police arrested 16 members of the Muslim Brotherhood early on Friday, a day before another round of parliamentary elections, a spokesman for the banned but usually tolerated Islamist group said.
He said the arrests in the city of Alexandria were an attempt by the ruling National Democratic Party to hamper their election campaign, after independents linked to the Brotherhood won seven seats there in the first round of the second stage of elections. The NDP gained only two.
"This is a warning from the authorities and an attempt to cut off the Brotherhood leadership from their supporters. It is also a punishment for winning seven seats," said Brotherhood spokesman Abd El-Moneim Mahmoud.
The Brotherhood, banned since 1954 but whose candidates are standing as independents, has so far tripled its strength in parliament this time, winning 13 seats in the first part of the second stage despite a state crackdown. The elections are divided into three stages, with two rounds of voting in each stage, making six days of voting in all.
The second day of the second stage is on Saturday. Mahmoud predicted thuggery from NDP supporters and attempts to scare off anti-government voters.
Brotherhood members will contest four seats in Alexandria on Saturday.
The city is a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold, and has been a flashpoint for election violence.One Brotherhood activist there was stabbed, an election monitoring group said, and thugs shot another man dead, but it was unclear who they were working for.
Independent election monitors pinned most of the violence on NDP supporters, adding that police did not intervene. The Interior Ministry blamed the majority of violent incidents on the Brotherhood and said the police were neutral.
Around 540 Brotherhood supporters have been arrested since the beginning of the parliamentary elections earlier this month, and about 300 are still in prison, a Brotherhood source said.