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Muslim Brotherhood makes gains in Egypt

Polling advances thwart Cairo effort to slow movement

BEHEIRA, Egypt -- The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood captured at least 25 more seats in Egypt's parliament in a runoff vote yesterday, despite what appeared to be a determined government effort to block its supporters and to slow the Islamic organization's building momentum.

Police fired tear gas at several polling places and used rubber bullets at one as residents arrived to cast ballots.

In another, a human rights worker reported that police had kept out Muslim Brotherhood supporters, lifting their cordon only when supporters of the governing party showed up in buses at sunset.

President Hosni Mubarak unexpectedly canceled plans to attend a European Union-sponsored summit meeting today in Barcelona, Spain. His spokesman, Suleiman Awwad, said developments in the Arab world were behind the cancellation and denied election unrest was the cause.

The preliminary Interior Ministry figures released early Sunday showed the fundamentalist Brotherhood increasing its share in parliament to at least 72 seats, a more than fourfold jump over its representation in the outgoing parliament -- with a third and final stage of voting still to go on Dec. 1 and another runoff likely six days after that.

The outcome, if it becomes final, would give the Brotherhood enough seats to nominate a presidential candidate in 2011 under new constitutional rules.

Despite the Muslim Brotherhood's impressive gains, the ruling National Democratic Party had claimed 122 seats going into the runoff yesterday, and was reportedly certain to maintain control of the 454-member legislature.

New results for the National Democratic Party were not available early today, since its block in parliament also consists of nominally independent members who vote with the ruling party.

The vote is seen as a test of the US-allied Mubarak's pledge to open the country's authoritarian political system, but the strong showing by the Brotherhood has been followed by violence, unrest and detentions.

The Muslim Brotherhood was banned in 1954. Later that year it was accused of trying to assassinate Interior Minister Gamal Abdel Nasser, who became president in 1956. It renounced violence in the 1970s and eludes the ban on its activities by fielding candidates as independents.

The Muslim Brotherhood's platform is based on a vague call for the implementation of Islamic law in the Arab world's largest nation. It advocates the veil for women and campaigns against perceived immorality in the media, but it insists it represents a more moderate face of Islam than that followed in Saudi Arabia.

The runoff yesterday was to decide 122 seats in nine provinces where no candidate got more than half the vote in the second round of voting Nov. 20.

Election monitors said security forces blocked thousands of the 10 million eligible voters from entering polling stations.

''Voters are being forcefully barred from entering the polling stations [and] many polling stations are empty," said Negad el-Borai, a monitor and rights activist.

Interior Ministry spokesman Ibrahim Hammad said no polling centers were closed and denied that police were blocking voters.

Judge Hesham el-Bastawisy denounced the violence in an interview with the Arab satellite television channel Al-Arabiya.

''What we've been hearing since early morning about what is happening at polling stations indicates this is not an election. It's a battle," Bastawisy said.

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