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Opposition boycotts run-off election in Egypt

Egypt held run-off parliamentary elections yesterday that are certain to hand President Hosni Mubarak's ruling party a crushing victory after the two main opposition groups decided to boycott the poll in protest against alleged fraud in the first round.

The vote, which will decide the fate of half of parliament's 508 elected seats, was marred by reports of armed clashes in the north and south and allegations of widespread vote buying in many constituencies in Cairo.

With a crackdown ahead of the vote that included arrest sweeps, Egypt's ruling establishment appeared determined to purge the largest opposition group, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, from the next legislature. The aim seems to be to ensure the Brotherhood cannot use parliament as a platform for dissent amid uncertainty over the country's future and in the lead-up to next year's more crucial presidential elections.

Both the Brotherhood and the other main opposition group, the liberal Wafd party, boycotted yesterday's run-offs. As a result, most of the contests pitted rival candidates from Mr Mubarak's National Democratic Party against each other, ensuring a parliament almost entirely made up of the ruling party, with a few seats going to independents and smaller parties.

"NDP versus NDP," said the headline in the Wafd party's newspaper. Such an outcome could backfire for Egypt's regime, eliminating any outward appearance of a fair vote and depriving it of any democratic legitimacy.

After the first round, US President Barack Obama's administration said it was disappointed by widespread reports of irregularities that cast doubt on the credibility of the polls.