CAIRO - The Muslim Brotherhood's party said on Wednesday its bloc was leading the vote count in the first stage of Egypt's first election since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

No official results have been released.

The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) said early indications showed it was ahead in the races for seats allocated both by party list and to individuals. In the party list race it was followed by the Islamist Salafi al-Nour Party and the liberal Egyptian Bloc, it said in a statement.

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Two thirds of seats will be allocated by party list and one third to individuals.

An FJP source, who declined to be named, said an FJP-led list had won about 40 percent of the party-list votes so far.

That result, if confirmed and repeated in the rest of the country during the staggered six-week poll, would give Egypt's oldest and best-organized Islamist group a powerful bloc in the next assembly, perhaps setting the stage for a power struggle with the ruling military.

An army council that took over from Mubarak has said the new parliament will not be able to dismiss a cabinet or form a new one, but the FJP's leader said on Tuesday the majority in parliament should form the next government.

The government resigned last week amid demonstrations in which 42 people were killed in clashes between police and protesters demanding an end to army rule. The generals picked a new prime minister days before the parliamentary election on Monday and Tuesday.

Monday and Tuesday's voting, the first of three rounds which will each be followed by run-offs, passed off mostly peacefully, but violence broke out on Tuesday in Cairo's protest hub of Tahrir Square where nearly 80 people were wounded.

Voting for the lower house lasts until Jan. 11.

Initial first round results are expected to trickle out on Wednesday after a high turnout and only minor infringements were reported in the first free election since army officers overthrew Egypt's monarchy in 1953.

A new government

Monitors reported logistical hiccups and some campaign violations but no serious violence to disrupt the vote. Election posters and banners festooned towns and cities while judges officiated under the eye of troops, police and vote monitors.

The outcome of the election in the most populous Arab country will help shape the future of a region convulsed by uprisings against decades of autocracy.

Though the Brotherhood did not start the Egyptian revolt, it is among its major beneficiaries. Outlawed by Mubarak and his predecessors, the group has now edged closer to political power.

Islamist parties in Morocco and Tunisia have come out on top in parliamentary elections in the past two months.

In an implicit challenge to the military's authority, the head of the FJP said parliament should form the government.

"A government that is not based on a parliamentary majority cannot conduct its work in practice," FJP head Mohamed Mursi told reporters in Cairo's working-class district of Shubra, adding that a coalition government would be best.

Ruling under pressure

On Friday, the military asked Kamal al-Ganzouri, 78, who was a prime minister under Mubarak, to form a government which he has said he expects to unveil by the end of this week.

The generals, already under pressure from Egyptians angered by their perceived desire to hold onto military perks and power, may face a new challenge from a parliament flush with the popular legitimacy gained from a big turnout at the polls.

Several other Islamist groups are competing. The leader of the ultra-conservative Salafi Islamist al-Nour Party, which hopes to siphon votes from the Brotherhood, said organizational failings meant his party had underperformed.

But he told Reuters the party still expected to win up to half of second city Alexandria's 24 seats in parliament and, nationwide, 70 to 75 of the assembly's 498 elected seats.

One member of the military council has said turnout would exceed 70 percent. The FJP's Mursi put it at 40 percent.

General Ismail Atman, an army council member, was quoted as saying the poll showed the irrelevance of the Tahrir protests.

The latest violence there erupted when unidentified youths tried to enter the square, a protest organizer said. Petrol bombs were thrown toward protesters and guns were fired. Of the 79 wounded, 27 were taken to hospital, the state news agency said.

Criticizing the authorities, reformist politician Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter: "Thugs are now attacking the protesters in Tahrir. A regime that cannot protect its citizens is a regime that has failed in performing its basic function."

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