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Egypt narrowly votes for new constitution amid widespread claims of ballot box fraud
Muslim Brotherhood claims to be in lead with 56 per cent of 'yes' votesRights groups call for repeat of votes as counting 'took place in darkness'120,000 army troops deployed
to help the police protect polling stations
18:56 GMT, 16 December 2012
Egyptians voted narrowly in favour of a controversial new constitution yesterday amid accusations of widespread ballot box violations.
Rights groups today called for a repeat of the first round of the two-part referendum as Islamists, who back the disputed charter, claimed they were in the lead with a 56 per cent majority of ‘yes’ votes.
Representatives of the seven groups charged that there was insufficient supervision by judges in Saturday's vote in 10 of Egypt's 27 provinces and independent monitors were prevented from witnessing vote counts.
Count: Polling station officials count ballots at a polling station in Cairo, but rights groups have demanded a repeat of the first round
Controversial constitution: Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, left, casts his vote on the disputed constitution that has polarized the nation
Opposition: Rival camps fear the constitution will divide the Arab world's biggest nation
The representatives told a news conference that they had reports of individuals falsely identifying themselves as judges, of women prevented from voting and that members of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood were allowed inside polling stations.
They also complained that some polling centers closed earlier than scheduled and that Christians were denied entry to polling stations.
‘The vote counting took place in darkness,’ Negad Borai, the head of one of the groups, said.
Next week’s second round is likely to give another ‘yes’ vote as it includes districts seen as more sympathetic towards Islamist President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood – meaning the constitution would be approved.
But a close win would give President Morsi only limited cause for celebration by showing the wide rifts in a country where he needs to build consensus on tough economic reforms.
Mr Morsi and his backers say the constitution is vital to move Egypt’s democratic transition forward.
Referendum: Polling station officials count ballots at a polling station in Cairo
On guard: Meanwhile Egyptian riot police cordon off all access to the road leading to the police station in Cairo's Doqqi neighbourhood
Tensions: Egyptian riot police walk past a military tank guarding the presidential palace in Cairo
But opponents say the basic law is too Islamist and tramples on minority rights, including those of Christians who make up 10 percent of the population.
Deadly protests erupted ahead of the vote after Mr Morsi awarded himself extra powers on last month and then fast-tracked the constitution through an assembly dominated by his Islamist allies.
Official results are not expected till after the next round.
Unrest: A protester looks at graffiti on cement blocks in front of the presidential palace in Cairo
Concern: Barbed wire has been set up in Tahir Square, the focal point of the Egyptian uprising
Protest: Police walk past a banner with a defaced photo of the Muslim Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mohamed Badie
The vote capped a near two-year struggle over Egypt's identity since the ouster of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
The latest crisis over the charter evolved into a fight over whether Egypt should move toward a religious state under Morsi's Brotherhood and their ultraconservative Salafi allies, or one that retains secular traditions and an Islamic character.
Underlining the tension, some 120,000 army troops were deployed to help the police protect polling stations and state institutions after clashes between Morsi's supporters and opponents over the past three weeks left at least 10 people dead and about 1,000 wounded.
Military operation: Some 120,000 army troops have been deployed to help the police protect polling stations and state institutions
Residents: A total of ten of Egypt's 27 provinces took part in yesterday's referendum, while the rest will take part next week