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Egypt: Early results show Islamist lead in vote

CAIRO - Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood was leading in initial, partial results from Egypt's parliamentary elections but it was facing stiff competition in many places both from more hard-line Islamic groups and from a liberal-secular alliance, judges overseeing counting said Wednesday.

The trend from results so far mirrored expectations that the Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful fundamentalist group, would make the strongest showing in the first parliament elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

Still, it was too early to extrapolate whether their victory was bigger or smaller than expected, with counting still continuing from the first round of voting, which took place on Monday and Tuesday.

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The Brotherhood had the biggest share of votes in the capital Cairo and the country's second biggest city, Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast, as well as the southern city of Luxor, Port Said on the Suez Canal, and Kafr el-Sheikh, a major city in the Nile Delta, according to judges in each area.

The Nour Party, made up of ultraconservative Islamic Salafis, and an alliance of liberal-secular parties known as the Egyptian Bloc came next, roughly running at the same rate, the judges said. They were unable to give proportions for each faction.

Between half and 80 percent of the votes had been counted in those areas, they said. The judges, who oversee the count, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the partial results.

The elections for the 498-seat People's Assembly, the lower house of parliament, are taking place in three two-day stages, stretched out until January. In each round, part of the country votes. The areas that voted on Monday and Tuesday — nine of Egypt's 27 provinces — will determine about 30 percent of the seats.

Two different voting systems are being used, further complicating the situation. Two-thirds of the seats nationwide are determined by lists: A voter selects a party or alliance of parties, and the seats of a district are divvied up among parties in accordance to the number of votes they get. The rest of the seats are determined by races in which individual candidates are competing against each other directly.

The Brotherhood was running strongest in the list races, the judges said, while facing stronger competition in the individual races, where a candidate's personal ties often play a stronger role.

For example, in the southern province of Assiut, where 20 percent of the votes remained to be counted, the Brotherhood led in the list races, followed by the Egyptian Bloc, which was boosted by the area's large Christian population. Individual races were much tighter, often between Brotherhood candidates and those of Gamaa Islamiya, a former Islamic militant group that renounced violence, or former members of Mubarak's dissolved ruling party.

Individual candidates will have to enter run-off elections if no one gets 50 percent in the first round. Any run-offs will take place in a week, before the next section of the country votes in the second round on Dec. 14-15.

The parliament that will emerge from the process will have severe limitations on it, imposed by the military, which took power after Mubarak's Feb. 11 fall. It's not even clear how long the parliament will sit. The new constitution is supposed to be drafted and approved by late June, and that may require a whole new election.

The ruling generals have said they will put together the new government, not parliament, and lawmakers will have no power to dissolve it. In theory, the parliament is tasked to elect a 100-member assembly to write the constitution. But the military has insisted that it will chose most of the assembly's members.

The Brotherhood, however, is likely to demand real powers for the parliament, possibly leading to frictions with the military.

In many ways, the race serves most as the first real gauge of the various political factions' strength. Under Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule, elections were largely rigged to ensure victories by his ruling party. The Brotherhood, which was banned, ran candidates as independents and was the strongest opposition force. Officially approved opposition parties were kept weak by the regime.

The Brotherhood's biggest election showing under Mubarak came in 2005, when they won 20 percent of the seats. Brotherhood leaders have spoken of winning up to 40 percent this time.

Just after polls closed on Tuesday, fighting erupted between protesters and angry street vendors at Cairo's Tahrir Square leaving some 80 injured.

The protesters, who have camped out for more than 10 days at the square demanding Egypt's military rulers step down, tried to clear the area of street vendors, who brought in thugs and hurled stones and fire balls back.

After the clashes subsided early Wednesday, the protesters lined up metal barricades and dumpsters to protect their camp. The official says the injured were taken to hospital. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

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