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Egypt: Minister who led crackdown on protests is among four arrested

Three former ministers were arrested yesterday by Egyptian security forces, including ex-security chief Habib el-Adly, who was widely blamed for the brutality displayed by police trying to quell protests. As the Interior Minister, Mr El-Adly had control of the 500,000-strong security forces, and was the most high-profile of the three to be arrested yesterday as part of an investigation into corruption.

The other two taken into custody, shortly before security officers moved to arrest Mr El-Adly, were Ahmed Maghrabi, the former Housing Minister, and Zuheir Garana, the former Tourism Minister.

A fourth man, steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz, the owner of Ezz Steel, was also arrested as part of the corruption inquiry. He is popularly believed to have been responsible for much of the fraud that marred the parliamentary elections held in November and December when President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party won virtually all of the 518 seats. In media interviews he has denied being responsible.

The four men are suspected of a range of corruption offences including money laundering, squandering the state's wealth and abuse of authority, and the arrests are seen as part of attempts by the new rulers to win the confidence of the demonstrators who drove President Mubarak out of power.

Mr El-Adly had served as Interior Minister for 12 years and was a close ally of Mr Mubarak's before the Egyptian president was toppled from power by 18 days of popular protests. Corruption among the top echelons of Egyptian society had been repeatedly cited by many of the demonstrators as one of the prime reasons for challenging the government.

Each of the four arrested men are likely to be held for at least 15 days, according to officials, and were among about a dozen former ministers and businessmen who are under investigation for suspected corruption.

Once the investigation was under way, the four were banned from travel abroad and had their assets frozen. Such measures are, in Egypt, normally a prelude to a criminal investigation and possible trial.