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U.S. criticizes Egypt's elections

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Irregularities did not affect the results, an election official says
  • Official results have not been announced
  • There were reports of irregularities and restrictions of basic freedoms, the U.S. says
  • Egypt declared the vote Sunday a success
  • Egypt

Washington (CNN) -- The Obama administration criticized Egyptian parliamentary elections Tuesday, saying there had been "numerous reported irregularities" and "restrictions on basic freedoms."

National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer called the reports "worrying" and said the United States is "disappointed." That's reasonably strong diplomatic language, especially when criticizing an ally.

Egyptians voted Sunday in parliamentary elections that critics predicted would be tainted by fraud and intimidation, but which the government declared "a success."

Cairo has not responded publicly to Washington's criticism.

But Egyptian election commission spokesman Sameh al-Kashef said Tuesday that, although the committee had received numerous complaints, irregularities did not affect the results of the election.

The complaints included riots, fraud and forgery, denying citizens their right to vote, and difficulties faced by the media. There were riots in 16 constituencies, he said.

He said voter turnout was 35 percent.

He did not announce election results.

Egyptian activist Hisham Qasim expressed disappointment Tuesday with the role the U.S. is playing in promoting democracy in his country.

"There seems very little anyone can do, especially with an American administration that has turned a blind eye over the issue of democracy and civil liberties," he said. "It will be very difficult to see anything changing as long as [President Hosni] Mubarak is alive."

Obama administration spokesman Hammer cited "the lack of international monitors and the many problems encountered by domestic monitors, and the restrictions on the basic freedoms of association, speech and press in the run-up to the elections" in his statement Tuesday.

But he commended Egyptians who took part in the election process.

Various opposition groups have accused the ruling National Democratic Party of using its power to suppress voices critical of Mubarak's nearly three-decade rule. The ruling party has dismissed the accusations.

"Initial reports indicate that election day has been a success," Anas El Fekky, Egypt's minister of information, said in a statement Sunday.

Egypt's official MENA news service reported that 6,000 members of 76 civil groups were monitoring the elections. The country rejected international monitoring of the vote as interference in its internal affairs.

Safwat Shareef, the ruling party's general secretary, said Egypt's election committee and "civil community groups will guarantee free and transparent elections."

But independent election monitors claim that elections are anything but that -- noting that elections in Egypt are often characterized by vote-rigging, intimidation and violence.

On Sunday, the son of an independent candidate for parliament died after he was stabbed, MENA reported. According to the news service, Amr Sayed Mohammed was stabbed after he got into a fight with supporters of opposing candidates.

However, the Ministry of Interior released a statement later Sunday saying Mohammed died as a result of a private dispute.

"His two attackers are now in police custody and have been identified as Ali Sultan and Hussein Magdy. Sultan has admitted that they assaulted Sayed because of his harassment of Sultan's sister," the statement said.

Some polling stations experienced violence, MENA and the government reported.

In the city of Damanhoor, an independent candidate attacked people and broke a ballot box, the news agency said.

In Mansoura, two candidates from the National Democratic Party physically fought, MENA reported.

Citing the elections commission, Egypt's information minister said violence broke out between competing candidates in a limited number of districts. Police responded.

"Though these events resulted in a limited number of casualties, there were no election-related deaths," El Fekky said.

The elections commission said 10 ballot boxes were compromised in the Kafr El-Dadwar district in El-Beheira Governate.

At one voting center at a school, three polling stations were attacked by candidate supporters, and the ballot boxes were destroyed, the elections commission reported.

In an incident at another voting center, ballot papers from seven polling stations were stolen, the commission said. Police arrested 43 suspects, and charges were filed, according to the commission.

"While we await the final report of the Commission after its investigation of these incidents, the Government is confident that they have not affected the overall conduct and integrity of the elections," said the statement from the information minister.

Earlier this month, police and members of the Muslim Brotherhood -- Egypt's largest opposition bloc -- violently clashed at a rally in Alexandria, where witnesses said police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

Although Egyptian authorities have not confirmed the total number of arrests in recent weeks, Muslim Brotherhood officials say that more than 1,200 of their members and supporters have been arrested.

Amnesty International has accused Egyptian authorities of silencing critics leading up to the elections. And Reporters Without Borders has condemned "an increase in measures to control news and information and suppress freedom of expression" as the election neared.

About 830 candidates from the ruling National Democratic Party, 250 from the liberal al-Wafd Party and 130 from the Muslim Brotherhood competed for the parliament's 508 seats.

Muslim Brotherhood candidates run as independents because the group is illegal according to Egyptian law, which bans parties based on religion.

CNN's Ben Wedeman in Cairo, Egypt, and Elise Labott and Tracy Doueiry contributed to this report.