Many Egyptians were blocked by security forces and ruling party backers from voting in an election on Tuesday, particularly where the opposition Muslim Brotherhood was running, rights groups and the opposition said.
The vote for 88 of the 264 seats in the upper house, or Shura Council, is regarded as a litmus test for how much space the authorities will give opposition voices in a parliament vote this year and presidential election in 2011.
The official election body said voting for the council, dominated by President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party, was smooth and complaints were being dealt with swiftly.
"They are preventing voters from going in to cast their vote, and only those backing the National Democratic Party have access," said Mohamed Ibrahim, a Brotherhood backer in Helwan near Cairo, where the Brotherhood's Ali Fath el Bab was running.
A Reuters witness in Helwan saw about six uniformed police stopping voters, who said they backed the Brotherhood, from entering a polling station. An election official said the incident had been reported and voters were let in later.
"They have forged it once again," chanted a gathering of Brotherhood supporters nearby. Plainclothes agents chased some Brotherhood backers and others away from the polling station.
The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, citing its monitors, said voters were barred from entering polling stations in districts of Giza, Sohag, Daqhiliya and Helwan even though their names were listed on the election roll.
Maat For Peace, Development and Human Rights said opposition supporters in Sixth of October, Minya and Cairo were barred. Some were stopped by police and others by ruling party backers.
Similar complaints were raised in previous elections, including the 2005 vote for the lower house when the officially banned Brotherhood won an unprecedented fifth of the seats.
The Brotherhood, which is fielding 13 candidates running as independents to skirt the ban, has no seats in the Shura Council.
This was the first Shura vote overseen by the Supreme Electoral Committee, which is appointed by the president. Previously judges oversaw voting and some judges have said their absence from polling stations would allow more abuses.
The committee said it had received 14 complaints by 1 p.m., saying six had no basis and others were being investigated.
"There are no obstacles standing in the way of the voting process and any isolated incidents are dealt with promptly," committee member Ahmed Shawqi told Reuters.
The Brotherhood said one man waiting to vote was shot and injured in the leg by a police officer in Beheira, north of Cairo. The committee said a shot was fired without saying by whom, and that the case was under criminal investigation.
Security authorities said Brotherhood supporters fired shots near the Beheira polling station to intimidate ruling party backers, injuring a police officer, a state news site said.
Several rights groups complained on the eve of the vote that they had not been given permission to monitor, a charge officials dismissed. On Tuesday, some groups with permission complained they were prevented from monitoring.
"They pushed me out of the committee (voting area) by force," said Gomaa Mahmoud, from a civil society group, speaking by telephone from Giza, where he said only 6 voters had been allowed to enter by noon. Polls close at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT)
Another representative of the group, who had entered one polling station, said he saw ruling party members guiding voters into the station and helping them fill out ballot papers.
ReutersLast Mod: 02 Haziran 2010, 08:51