EU to monitor Egypt election after lifting of equipment blockade

The bloc had said two days earlier its officials would only be able to watch voting in the capital as vital communications and medical gear was being held up in the airport - but that decision has now been reversed.

CAIRO // The European Union said on Monday it would monitor all of Egypt’s presidential election, reversing a decision to scale back its operations after authorities agreed to release a load of impounded equipment.

The bloc had said two days earlier its officials would only be able to watch voting in the capital as vital communications and medical gear was being held up in the airport.

“We are going to be spread all over the country,” EU Chief Observer Mario David told reporters on Monday.

Former army chief Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who removed elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi last July following mass protests, is widely expected to win the presidency.

Supporters of Mr Morsi’s now banned Muslim Brotherhood — which has seen hundreds of its members arrested, sentenced to death and killed during a security crackdown — have branded the election a farce.

The government says it is fighting terrorism and has blamed the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups for attacks on police and soldiers since Mr Morsi was deposed — accusations the Brotherhood has dismissed.

Mr El Sisi — who is running against only one other candidate, leftist Hamdeen Sabahi — has become a quasi-cult figure for many Egyptians who see him as a strongman who can save Egypt after years of political turmoil.

Election observers from The Carter Center have already raised concerns about the poll, saying in a report last week saying restrictions on freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly have tightened.

Also on Monday, an Egyptian court acquitted 169 Muslim Brotherhood supporters charged in connection with unrest that followed Mr Morsi’s removal last year, breaking a pattern of mass convictions at trials involving the Islamist opposition.

The men were charged with “illegal gathering” in relation to violence in Cairo on August 16 last year, two days after the security forces killed hundreds of Mr Morsi supporters while breaking up their protest camps in the capital.

Of those charged, 117 were still being held. They will now be freed. Others charged in the case had already been released. Further details on the ruling were not immediately available.

Earlier this year, a judge issued preliminary death sentences against 1,200 Brotherhood supporters and members in two separate cases, triggering heavy condemnation from Western governments and human rights groups. The convicted included the group’s leader, Mohamed Badie.

Rights groups criticised the trials for deep procedural flaws, and despite the acquittals, other courts are continuing with convictions.

A judge in Alexandria on Monday convicted 62 people and sentenced them to jail terms of up to 25 years in relation to political violence last July. The judge also upheld the death penalty against one of those charged in the case.

This came a day after more than 160 Brotherhood supporters were handed sentences of up to 15 years in prison.

Mr Morsi’s overthrow triggered the worst bout of internal strife in Egypt’s modern history, with many hundreds of his supporters killed.

Several hundred policemen and soldiers have also died in a campaign of bombings and shootings since last year.

Gunmen killed two policemen in southern Egypt and a bomb wounded three students outside a university in Cairo on Monday, security sources said.

* Reuters

Published: May 19, 2014 04:00 AM

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