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(photo credit: AP)
A Muslim Brotherhood blogger was released Saturday after a 45-day detention, but the crackdown against the group continued, with 51 Brotherhood members arrested in recent days, police said.
Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, 27, a well-known blogger and correspondent for the London-based Al-Hewar Arabic TV Channel, and 23 others, mostly students, had been held since mid-April for being members of the banned group. The fellow detainees were also released Saturday, said the police, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.
Mahmoud's release came amid a continued government crackdown against the Brotherhood in the lead up to June elections for the upper house of Parliament, known as the Shura Council, that will include candidates from the group.
Police said 51 Brotherhood members and supporters had been arrested since Thursday, including seven Saturday in the province of Ismailia, located 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Cairo.
The Brotherhood confirmed on its Web site that its members and supporters had been targeted in recent days, but indicated the total number arrested was only 48. The reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear.
US-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement Wednesday saying, "The Egyptian government has intensified its arrest campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood ahead of elections to the upper house of parliament."
The rights group quoted Brotherhood lawyers as saying 87 members were arrested in just one week in May.
The Brotherhood announced in April that it would field candidates for Shura Council elections scheduled for June 11 and recently said 19 members had completed the required registration to run.
The Shura Council was established in 1979 as an advisory body, but gained limited legislative powers from recent constitutional amendments.
The Brotherhood has been banned since 1954 but has continued to operate and is Egypt's most powerful opposition movement. Its lawmakers, who run as independents, hold 88 seats in the 454-seat parliament.
The Brotherhood advocates implementation of Islamic law but says it wants democratic reforms in Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak has had a quarter-century of authoritarian rule.
The government accuses the group of seeking to take over the country and passed a series of constitutional amendments in March that further curtailed the Brotherhood's ability to participate in politics.
"The Egyptian government has never convincingly justified its continued ban of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has renounced violence for more than 30 years," Human Rights Watch said in its statement.
More than 400 Brotherhood members, including leading figures, students and supporters of Brotherhood candidates, have been arrested in a crackdown since December, when Brotherhood students carried out a military-like parade.
That prompted government accusations that the movement was forming an armed wing, providing students with combat training, knives and chains. The group denies forming a militia.
A military trial of 40 top Brotherhood figures on terrorism and money laundering charges, which began late April, resumes Sunday, one of the largest such tribunals in years.
Later Saturday, some 80 people, mostly Brotherhood supporters and members of the pro-democracy Kifaya movement, protested against the trial and the crackdown in downtown Cairo. About twice that number of riot police contained the rally, which dispersed peacefully by sunset.