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Elections for Egypt's upper chamber of parliament turned violent Monday as one man was killed in clashes between ruling party supporters and independents outside a polling station in the northern Nile Delta region, police said.
Police identified the man who was killed as Ahmed Abdel Salam Ghanim, a supporter of the independent candidate running in Monday's Shura council elections.
The death occurred when clashes between supporters escalated into gunfire outside a polling station in al-Husseiniya in al-Sharqiya province, police said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.
At another polling station near the country's capital, Cairo, security was heavy, and police kept voters way from the polls.
Monday's elections are significant because the president's ruling party is competing against the country's powerful Islamic opposition group, which is participating in Shura Council elections for the first time.
The Muslim Brotherhood's decision to field 19 candidates in Monday's elections comes amid a large-scale government crackdown on the group. The Brotherhood, which is Egypt's largest Islamic opposition group, has been banned since 1954 but continues to operate with its lawmakers running as independents in elections.
Security was intense Monday morning at the Manshiyat al-Qanater polling station in Giza, where Brotherhood candidate Sayeed Saleh was competing for a seat. Although voting officially started at 8:00am (0500 GMT), police dressed in riot gear sealed off the building and ordered voters to leave the premises.
"It seems that there is no election today," said Alya Lutfi, a 23-year-old accountant standing outside the polling station. "We are not allowed to enter to vote. I don't understand what is going on."
Previous Shura Council elections have witnessed low voter turnout, a reflection of widespread apathy toward the 264-seat consultative body that gained limited legislative powers from recent constitutional amendments.
Only 176 members of the Shura Council are directly elected for six-year terms, while the president appoints the remaining 88. Elections and appointments are executed on a rotating basis, with one half of the council renewed every three years.
In Monday's elections, 587 candidates are competing for 88 seats in 24 provinces, 109 from the ruling National Democratic Party, 19 from the Brotherhood and the remainder from smaller opposition groups or running as independents. Two principal opposition parties, al-Wafd and Nasserite, are boycotting the elections.
Egyptian newspapers reported Monday that 11 of the 88 seats were uncontested and went to candidates from the NDP.
Despite the small number of Brotherhood candidates, the group's announcement in April that it would compete for Shura Council elections was significant because it came just three weeks after a controversial constitutional amendment intended to limit the organization's political participation.
Prior to Monday's elections, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's party had asked the High Election Commission to disqualify 17 of the Brotherhood's candidates. But the Supreme Administrative Court rejected the request late Sunday.
The ruling party has complained that by sticking to its campaign slogan "Islam is the solution," the Brotherhood is violating the newly amended constitution that prohibits political parties based on religion. The Brotherhood has argued that it is not violating the constitution since article two stipulates that Islamic law is the main source of legislation.
"Elections are one of the of Brotherhood's tools for change and reform," the Brotherhood's leader Mohammed Mahdi Akef said in comments published on the group's official web site Sunday. "The Brotherhood mission is to resist despotism and establish a state of stability in which Egyptians enjoy freedom and democracy," he added.
Mubarak's party has an effective monopoly on political power, but has faced an increasing challenge from the Brotherhood, which won nearly a fifth of the seats in the lower house of parliament in 2005. During those elections, the group fielded 160 members and won 88 of the 454 seats, despite mass arrests of Brotherhood members and supporters and attempts to block voters from reaching the polls.
More than 700 Brotherhood members and supporters have been detained in Egypt since the group announced it would compete in Monday's elections, according to the group and police, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. Brotherhood candidate Saleh said Monday that 160 of his supporters had been arrested in the past few weeks.
Human Rights Watch recently issued a statement condemning the mass arrests. The New-York based watchdog said it had collected names of more than 1,000 members of the group detained between March 2006-March 2007.
Also troubling to the opposition, one of the constitutional amendments passed in late March introduced changes limiting election supervision by the judiciary, a step they believe increases the chances of vote fraud. In the referendum for the recent amendments, the state said 27 percent of the population voted, but human rights groups and independent judges put the number at about 4 percent.