Egypt's electoral commission has confirmed the disqualification of 10 candidates from next month's presidential election, including two prominent Islamists and the former spy chief of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
The three leading Egyptian presidential contenders had filed appeals after the commission disqualified them from the race on Saturday. The electoral panel rejected those appeals on Tuesday, ending the candidacies of Muslim Brotherhood chief strategist Khairat el-Shater, ulltraconservative Salafist Hazem Abu Ismail and Mubarak aide Omar Suleiman.
Their disqualification marked a dramatic development in Egypt's preparations for its first free presidential election since the February 2011 revolution that ended Mubarak's three-decade autocratic rule. The first round of voting begins on May 23.
El-Shater reacted angrily to the rejection of his appeal, calling it proof that Egypt remains under the control of Mubarak's allies. The commission disqualified him because he had a past criminal conviction for ties to the Brotherhood, which was officially banned under the Mubarak government.
But the Islamist movement still has a back-up candidate in the presidential race - Mohammed Morsi, the head of its political party. Morsi is among 13 candidates whose bids were approved by the commission.
Hundreds of supporters of Salafist preacher Abu Ismail held a sit-in outside the commission's headquarters to protest his disqualification from the election. The panel barred him from running by citing evidence that his mother previously held American citizenship, a violation of election rules stating that all candidates and their parents must be Egypt nationals only. Abu Ismail has denied that his mother ever held American nationality.
Suleiman's candidacy was rejected because he had too few voter endorsements from all of Egypt's provinces. He briefly served as vice president in the days before Mubarak's ouster, and his late entry into the election drew strong criticism from Egyptian Islamists.
The most prominent candidates remaining in the race include Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister under Mubarak, and Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, a former member of the Brotherhood. The Egyptian military council that took over from Mubarak has promised to hand power to an elected president by July 1.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.