Police detained 17 members of the Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday in northern Egypt where the Islamist group was fielding candidates for four vacant parliamentary seats, security officials said.
The Brotherhood, the strongest opposition group in the Arab country despite the ban, said police forces were blocking its campaign staff and supporters from voting in the coastal city of Alexandria and the Nile Delta province of Kafr el-Sheikh. Brotherhood candidates are running as independents.
The Interior Ministry said the charges were baseless.
Security officials and the Brotherhood said police rounded up the 17 Islamists in Alexandria, where the group was vying with ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and other independent candidates for two seats vacant since 2005 when voting was halted after a legal challenge.
A Reuters photographer saw police detain two men who were carrying leaflets promoting a Brotherhood candidate.
The arrests bring to at least 55 the number of Brotherhood members detained over the past four days.
An unexpectedly strong showing in a 2005 parliamentary election triggered a government pressure against the group. Brotherhood members won one fifth of parliamentary seats in that poll, which was marred by violence and accusations of vote-rigging.
Since then, several Brotherhood leaders have been prosecuted and imprisoned, and some members have been barred from running for other elected positions.
Analysts say the government wants to stop the Brotherhood from mounting a real rival to the rule of President Hosni Mubarak, in power since 1981. Mubarak's ruling party has a comfortable majority in every elected body in the country.
The Brotherhood says it wants to create an Islamic state through the ballot box.
Witnesses and a Reuters reporter in Kafr el-Sheikh, where the two other parliamentary seats were up for grabs, said only a trickle of voters had voted since polls opened in the morning. "Go look after your land and your family," a police officer told a small crowd of Brotherhood supporters and campaign aides in front of one polling station.
Shokri Nasr, a Brotherhood campaign aide, said: "I have been here since the morning. I have documents allowing me to enter (the polling station) but they (police) refused. They are not even letting me vote."
An interior ministry spokesman said the electoral process was smooth and denied policemen were blocking voters.
"These are baseless allegations," he said. "The electoral process is going on with integrity and without any bias."
Last Mod: 13 Temmuz 2008, 17:29