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Violence flares over Egypt election

A mob has set fire to the campaign headquarters of one of the two Egyptian presidential politicians facing each other in a run-off that will decide a new leader after last year's popular uprising, the first sign of unrest after the voting yielded divisive candidates.

The attack on Ahmed Shafiq's office came just hours after the country's election commission announced that he would face the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohammed Morsi, in a June 16-17 run-off.

The second round pitting Shafiq, who was ousted President Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, against Morsi, backed by the country's most powerful Islamist movement, is a nightmare scenario for the thousands of Egyptians who took to the streets last year to demand regime change, freedom and social equality.

Many of the so-called revolutionaries say they want neither a return to the old regime nor religious rule.

In an upscale neighbourhood of Cairo, mobs of young men used bricks to smash the windows of Shafiq's headquarters, tossing out campaign signs and tearing up his posters. Then they set fire to the building. There were no reports of injuries. Police arrested eight people.

His campaign blamed supporters of leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who came in third in the race, and backers of another losing candidate, Khaled Ali, who was protesting over the election results on Monday evening in Tahrir Square, the centre of last year's uprising.

Shafiq, also a former air force commander, was forced out of office as prime minister by protesters shortly after Mubarak's fall. He has since presented himself as a figure who can restore calm to a country wracked by 15 months of sometimes violent protests and deterioration in internal security. He has expressed a zero-tolerance attitude toward protests, reflecting his background in the military and in the former regime, which put down protests with brutal force and jailed opponents.

Shortly after the protesters ransacked the campaign office, fire trucks and police arrived as several hundred of Shafiq's supporters gathered outside the building, carrying his picture and chanting slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls the parliament and is now seeking the presidency.

The Morsi-Shafiq runoff is a polarising contest. It mirrors the conflict between Mubarak, himself a career air force officer like Shafiq, and the Islamists he jailed and tortured throughout his years in power. But it sidelines the mostly young, secular activists who led the popular uprising last year.

The commission reported on Monday that Morsi won close to 5.8 million votes, or almost 25%, while Shafiq received 5.5 million votes, or nearly 24%. Sabahi, a socialist, finished third with 4.8 million votes, or about 21%. Fourth place went to moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh. Turnout was about 50%.

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