At least three people have been killed by police outside Egyptian polling stations on the final day of voting in a parliamentary election that has been marred by widespread violence. Riot police sealed off scores of polling stations and refused to let most people vote in areas where the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood is strongest.
In several parts of the country, voters clashed with police who had cordoned off polling stations and were refusing to let people in to cast their ballots. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds.
There were numerous reports of police and armed thugs beating voters with sticks, batons and knives. A number of journalists were also beaten and harassed. A local human rights group said more than 300 polling stations were closed.
In the city of Zagazig, about 100 kilometers northeast of Cairo, voter Hanan Amin Abdelrahman said the situation was bad.
"The main character is violence today. They did not differentiate between people, old people or even children. They hit everybody. They took the orders to hit everyone just coming near the school," she said.
Runoff elections were taking place in nine provinces, in districts where nobody won more than half the votes in the first round last week. The worst of the violence was reported in strongholds of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which has done extremely well at the polls in earlier rounds of voting, despite the arrests of hundreds of the group's followers.
Because the Muslim Brotherhood is technically illegal, its candidates run for parliament as independents. They have won 76 seats in the first two stages of voting, more than five times the number they held in the last parliament. Another 35 candidates were vying for seats in Wednesday's runoffs.
In the Nile Delta province of Dakahliya, Muslim Brotherhood candidate Ahmed Kosba said the jails are full of his supporters, and little voting was taking place.
There is an intense security presence within the district," he said. "Any polling station where they think I have support has been sealed off by state security, police forces, armored vehicles and tear gas."
The interior ministry denies that the security forces have interfered in the electoral process. But voters in many districts said only members of the ruling National Democratic Party were allowed into polling stations, often gaining access by showing police their party membership cards.
In Zagazig, Mrs. Abdelrahman, who is a professor of pediatric medicine and a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, said she was able to vote after she and a small group of other women pushed their way into their polling station early in the morning. But for most of the day, she said, the police were only letting in people who gave them a secret password.
"A password, yes ? to be said to the soldiers, and they are permitting only the people who said the password to them. This is something new. This is a new fashion of voting today," she said.
Egyptian authorities blamed the Brotherhood's supporters for violence. But Muslim Brotherhood officials deny the charge, saying it is in their best interest for things to go smoothly so their supporters can vote.
The candidate in Daqhaliya, Ahmed Kosba, believes the crackdown will only increase the Brotherhood's support.
"They close all the polling stations and prevent people from casting their ballots. I get votes because people react against this. These are drastic scenes that no sane person can accept," he said.
The U.S. State Department has condemned the violence that disrupted earlier rounds of voting, as well as the arrests of opposition members. It said the electoral abuses send the wrong message about Egypt's commitment to democracy and freedom.
There were 127 seats in parliament being decided on the final day of voting. The ruling National Democratic Party's overwhelming majority is not in jeopardy. But the Muslim Brotherhood will now be the only significant opposition bloc in the People's Assembly.