As voters in rural areas of Egypt go to the polls in the third and final phase of elections that have so far been dominated by Islamist parties, the Muslim Brotherhood says it intends to form a unity government,
Voting continued for a second day Wednesday in nine provinces, including al-Gharbiya, North Sinai and South Sinai, the last areas to hold polls in the elections that began in late November. The areas include historic Brotherhood strongholds, where a number of the group's best-known candidates are running.
The Brotherhood looked to possibly win an outright majority instead of the plurality indicated by previous results. It has in the past sought to ally itself with secular liberal groups instead of the ultra-conservative Salafists.
Their triumph has come at the expense of liberal parties and youth groups behind the popular uprising that forced former president Hosni Mubarak from power nearly a year ago.
At the same time, the country's military rulers have been waging an increasingly violent crackdown on protesters. Last week, soldiers raided 10 pro-democracy and election monitoring organizations, including three U.S. groups.
On Tuesday, the State Department stepped up its criticism, calling the harassment "unacceptable." Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Mubarak government "holdovers" were making the most strident statements against the NGOs.
Also Tuesday, the chief prosecutor in Mubarak's trial held opening arguments, calling him a "tyrannical leader" who sought to hand power to friends and relatives.
The former president is charged with corruption and involvement in the deaths of hundreds of anti-government protesters during last year's uprising.
Mubarak, 83, faces the death penalty if convicted of murder. He has pleaded not guilty. His two sons, the former interior minister and senior police officers are co-defendants.
Mubarak's trial restarted last week after a more than three-month suspension, while the court considered a request to have the judges replaced.
Egypt's military rulers said Sunday that the election process will be sped up following clashes in Cairo. Protesters have called for a quicker transition to civilian rule.
Voting for parliament's upper house is now set to end February 22 with the full house holding its first meeting February 28, nearly a month earlier than previously expected.
The parliament will write a new constitution, and the ruling military council has promised to hand power to an elected president by July.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.