The White House says those responsible for beating Egyptian opposition supporters should be brought to justice. The attacks came ahead of a referendum on key electoral reforms.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the Bush administration is very aware of reports that plainclothes Egyptian government agents beat protesters Wednesday then watched as supporters of President Hosni Mubarak punched other demonstrators.
Mr. McClellan says there is no excuse for that violence. In a Rose Garden news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, President Bush said attacking opposition supporters is not the way democracy works.
"The idea of people expressing themselves in opposition to the government and then getting beaten is not our view of how a democracy ought to work," the president said. "It is not the way that you have free elections, people ought to be allowed to express themselves. And I am hopeful that the president will have open elections that everybody can have trust in."
White House spokesman McClellan says it is Washington's view that freedom of assembly is an important part of free elections and anyone who attacks peaceful demonstrators should be arrested and tried.
President Bush again backed what he called President Mubarak's "first steps" toward electoral reform, changes that he says should include international monitors and guarantee equal treatment for all candidates.
Egyptian opposition groups called for a boycott of the referendum, which requires presidential hopefuls to gain the support of at least 300 members of parliament. As that body is dominated by the ruling party, opposition leaders say the requirement means there will be no serious challengers to President Mubarak.
The Egyptian leader has not officially announced whether he will run for re-election in September, but he is widely expected to do so. President Mubarak has ruled the country since 1981, re-elected every six years without opposition in a simple yes or no ballot.