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Protests over Egypt 'votes fraud'

Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters have protested and scuffled with police angry at what they called widespread fraud in Egypt's parliamentary elections.

The protests in Cairo and in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria capped a day of voting in which many independent monitors were barred from polling stations amid reports of ballot box stuffing and vote buying.

In some places, government candidates were seen passing out cash and food to voters near polling stations. Overhanging the parliamentary vote was the more significant presidential election set for next year.

For the first time in nearly 30 years, there are questions over the presidential vote.

The 82-year-old President Hosni Mubarak has had health problems, undergoing surgery earlier this year. His party says he will run for another six-year term, but that hasn't resolved the speculation over the future of the country's leadership.

Fuelling the sense of unease, Egyptians the past year have grown increasingly vocal in their anger over high prices, low wages, persistent unemployment and poor services despite economic growth that has created a boom for the upper classes.

Opponents say the ruling party in this top US ally aims to sweep parliament almost completely to prevent any future platform for dissent.

In the run-up to the voting, at least 1,200 supporters of the Islamic fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood - the ruling party's only real rival - were arrested and many of its candidates saw their campaign rallies broken up.

In the last parliamentary election, in 2005, the Brotherhood stunned the government by winning a fifth of the legislature, its strongest showing ever.

The voting saw sporadic violence - police fired tear gas in one southern Cairo district after officers shut down a polling station, and in the southern city of Qena, Brotherhood supporters threw firebombs at police who barred them voting. But a heavy presence of security forces, along with gangs of intimidating young men hanging around outside polling stations, seemed to scare off most opposition supporters.

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