Protestors burn Egypt poll candidate's HQ

Protestors burn Egypt poll candidate's HQ

A group of protestors has set fire to the campaign headquarters of one of the two Egyptian presidential politicians facing each other in a run-off that will decide a new leader after last year’s popular uprising.

The attack on Ahmed Shafiq’s office the first sign of unrest after the voting yielded divisive candidates.

It came hours after the country’s election commission announced he would face the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, in a June 16-17 run-off.

In an upscale neighbourhood of Cairo, mobs of young men used bricks to smash the windows of Mr Shafiq’s headquarters, tossing out campaign signs and tearing up posters. Then they set fire to the building.

There were no reports of injuries, but police arrested eight people.

The second round pitting Mr Shafiq, who was ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, against Mr Morsi, backed by the country’s most powerful Islamist movement, is a nightmare scenario for the thousands of Egyptians who took to the streets last year to demand regime change, freedom and social equality.

Many of the so-called revolutionaries say they want neither a return to the old regime nor religious rule.

Mr Shafiq’s campaign blamed supporters of leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in the race, and backers of another losing candidate, Khaled Ali, who was protesting against the election results yesterday evening in Tahrir Square, the centre of last year’s uprising.

Mr Shafiq, a former air force commander, was forced out of office as prime minister by protesters shortly after Mubarak’s fall. He has since presented himself as a figure who can restore calm to a country wracked by 15 months of violent protests and deterioration in internal security.

He has expressed a zero-tolerance attitude toward protests, reflecting his background in the military and in the former regime, which put down protests with brutal force and jailed opponents.

Shortly after the protesters ransacked the campaign office, fire trucks and police arrived as several hundred Shafiq supporters gathered outside the building, carrying his picture and chanting slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls the parliament and is seeking the presidency.

“The Brotherhood are enemies of God,” chanted the crowd.

The Morsi-Shafiq run-off is a polarising contest. It mirrors the conflict between Mubarak, himself a career air force officer like Mr Shafiq, and the Islamists he jailed and tortured throughout his years in power.

But it sidelines the mostly young, secular activists who led the popular uprising last year.

The commission reported yesterday that Mr Morsi won close to 5.8 million votes, or almost 25%, while Mr Shafiq received 5.5 million votes, or nearly 24%. Mr Sabahi, a socialist, finished third with 4.8 million votes, or about 21%. Fourth place went to moderate Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh. Turnout was about 50%.

In Tahrir Square, several thousands protesters chanted slogans against the military rulers who took over after Mubarak’s removal. Protesters have clashed frequently with the military in street protests that have killed more than 100 people, charging that the military is perpetuating the repressive practices of the Mubarak regime and bungling the transition to a new elected government.

Protesters also chanted slogans against Mr Morsi and Mr Shafiq, saying they will not allow Egypt to be ruled by one party again nor allow the former regime to regain power.

In the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, where Mr Sabahi, a favourite among many revolutionaries, won the most votes, protesters tore down and burned large Shafiq and Morsi posters and protested against military rule.

In the Nile Delta provinces of Dakahliya and Mansoura, protesters took to the streets in similar protests. Security officials said protesters in Mansoura tried to attack the campaign offices of Mr Morsi and Mr Shafiq, but supporters of both candidates stopped the crowd.

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