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Eight are killed in violence as Egyptians go to polls

Police seek to block banned Muslim group

ZAGAZIG, Egypt -- Police barricaded polling stations and fired tear gas and rubber bullets yesterday to prevent supporters of the banned Muslim Brotherhood from voting in the final day of parliamentary elections. At least eight people were killed, including a 14-year-old boy.

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood fought back, hurling stones and firebombs, and cornering security forces in some towns.

The last day of the vote, which stretched over a month, was by far the most violent. At least 10 people have been killed over the three rounds of balloting, which began Nov. 9 and which are considered a key test of President Hosni Mubarak's pledge to open the political system.

Hundreds have been wounded and more than 1,000 have been arrested, mainly supporters of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, which has fielded candidates as independents.

The Muslim Brotherhood had 35 candidates in the runoff yesterday for the remaining 127 of 444 seats in parliament. Polling took place in nine provinces where no candidate received more than half the vote in the third round of polling, Dec. 1.

The Muslim Brotherhood calls for implementing Islamic law, but it has been vague about what that means. It campaigns for head scarves for women and against immodest dress, but it says it stands for a moderate version of Islam.

So far, Mubarak's governing National Democratic Party and allied independents have won 222 seats. According to early official results yesterday, the Brotherhood had taken six more seats for a total of 82, a large jump over the 15 seats it had held in the outgoing parliament. Independents have won two seats and other opposition parties 11.

In the northern Sinai town of El-Arish yesterday, police blocked Muslim Brotherhood voters from polling places, and many fought back with stones and firebombs, cornering police in the narrow streets of the Mediterranean city.

When reinforcements did not control the crowd, police fled and angry voters rioted and destroyed the city headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party.

Some government supporters in Zagazig, a Nile Delta city 50 miles northeast of Cairo, were brought to polling stations in an armored police vehicle. They emerged with machetes, and pushed back voters who had been trying to break through police lines to get into polling stations.

Mohammed Karam el-Taher, 14 years old, was killed when police fired at demonstrators in Qattawiya, a Nile Delta village not far from Zagazig.

A 22-year-old man also was killed in Qattawiya, of gunshot wounds to the head, according to police. Another man was killed elsewhere in the province.

Three men were shot and killed in the northern town of Damietta, where police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at crowds outside polling stations, according to Dr. Mohammed Balboula of the Damietta Public Hospital and the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.

Two men were killed of gunshot wounds in the Matariya hospital in Dakahliya province, also in the Nile Delta, according to a doctor and police.

The Interior Ministry confirmed the deaths, but accused the Muslim Brotherhood of having instigated riots.

A ministry spokesman, Ibrahim Hammad, accused Muslim Brotherhood ''thugs" of causing the disturbances. ''The police are protecting the judges and helping the voters to reach the ballot box," Hammad said in a statement.

But reporters in Zagazig and Sohag, 240 miles south of the capital, saw security forces blocking voters from reaching the polls and attacking voters.

US criticism of the violence has been sharp. ''We've seen a number of developments over the past couple weeks . . . that raise serious concerns about the path of political reform," the State Department said Tuesday.

Yesterday, Judge Ahmed Mecci, a senior member of the pro-reform Judges' Club, said police were blocking access to at least 20 polling stations in Zagazig.

In the Nasiriyah district, police blocked a voters even before the polls opened yesterday.

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