U.S. troubled by reports Egypt police stopped voting

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Wednesday it was troubled by reports Egyptian police stopped people from voting in a parliamentary election this week in areas where the opposition Muslim Brotherhood is strong.

Egypt's ruling party won 69 out of 88 seats outright in Monday's election while the opposition Muslim Brotherhood got none, according to an Egyptian government statement.The Brotherhood, rights groups and journalists reported voting irregularities including multiple voting and ballot stuffing. In some places where the Islamists hold a strong popular base, police denied voters access to polling stations.

"We've seen the reports and they are troubling," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. "They are of deep concern."

The elections, for half of the elected seats in the Shoura Council, were a test case for constitutional and legislative changes banning religious slogans and symbols as Egypt prepares for a transition of power from aging President Hosni Mubarak.

The banning of religious slogans and symbols is seen as a way to drive the Islamists out of mainstream politics.

U.S. President George W. Bush has stressed the promotion of democracy and human rights during his second term but has been accused of softening his criticism of allies such as Egypt because he needs their support in Iraq.

McCormack said the United States raised its concerns about democratic reform with Egypt in a respectful way and said Egypt would embrace these at its own pace.

"They will adapt democratic freedoms, greater freedoms, within their political and economic systems in their own way." the U.S. spokesman said. "But it's important that they do continue to make progress."