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Egypt holds 1st parliament session post-Mubarak

CAIRO - The parliament elected in Egypt's first legislative vote after Hosni Mubarak's ouster nearly a year ago held its inaugural session on Monday, with Islamists dominating the 498-seat chamber.

The session was chaired by Mahmoud el-Saqqah, the chamber's oldest lawmaker.

The lower and more powerful of parliament's two chambers, known as the People's Assembly, was due to elect a speaker and two deputies later in the session. The speaker was expected to come from the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist group that won just under half of the seats.

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Held over several weeks starting Nov. 28, the parliamentary election was the freest in Egypt's modern history. Elections for parliament's upper chamber, a largely toothless body known as the Shura Council, will begin later this month.

The chamber's top priority is to elect a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution, which will have to be put to a vote in a nationwide referendum. Presidential elections are scheduled to be held before the end of June, when the military generals who took over from Mubarak in February last year are due to step down.

Mubarak was forced out of office by an 18-day popular uprising.

Several independent lawmakers and others representing the liberal groups that engineered the anti-Mubarak uprising wore arm bands saying, "No to military trials," a reference to the hauling of at least 12,000 civilians before military tribunals since the generals took over power 11 months ago.

El-Saqqah began the proceedings by ordering lawmakers to stand in silence for a minute in memory of the hundreds of protesters killed during the protests.

Mubarak, 83, is on trial for complicity in the killing of the protesters. He could face the death penalty if convicted.