High turnout in Egypt's first free presidential vote

High turnout in Egypt's first free presidential vote

Voters Wednesday turned out in large numbers in most parts of Egypt as the country held its first ever free presidential election, dpa reported.

Turnout was particularly high in the capital, Cairo, where long queues stretching outside the polling stations caused traffic congestion, state media and observers reported.

More voters showed up in the afternoon, when employees usually leave their workplaces.

Polls began closing at 9 pm (1900 GMT), after voting hours were extended by an hour on the first day of the poll, state television reported.

The National Council for Human Rights had earlier called for an extension of voting due to large crowds at polling stations.

Voters waiting at a school in central Cairo told dpa they had been standing in line for an hour and half already.

But all seemed in good humour and enthusiastic about the process.

"I'm going to vote for one of the liberal candidates," said Amr Rushdy, 48, a trader.

"These elections are a matter of life and death for the country. It depends on the right candidate being elected."

Standing behind him, engineer Tariq Adel, 47, was optimistic about the result.

"The ballot box will decide things. Whoever wins, it should not be a problem," he added.

At another polling station in the more working-class Zeinhom area in Cairo, the atmosphere was equally cheerful.

"I support Mohammed Morsi due to his Islamic frame of reference and because he has a clear project and a large organization behind him," said Ayman Mahdi, a lawyer, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate.

Hospital employee Samih al-Gundi, 47, interjected to say that he had voted for a left-wing candidate and wanted "a civil state with the rule of law. We're all Muslims anyway, we want Muslims and Christians to live together equally."

Despite the differences in opinion, there was no sense of tension.

Ahmed Mohammed, a teacher, said he was "entirely confident" the elections would be fair. "Whoever is elected, we'll accept him, even if he is from the far left."

Egypt's military rulers are expected to declare a temporary constitution outlining presidential powers before they hand over power to the elected president by the end of June. The step is necessary because a row among political powers and the Islamist-dominated parliament has hampered the creation of an assembly to write a new constitution.

But it means the new president will take power with the exact description of his duties still in flux.

Ali Abdel-Khaleq, a taxi driver, had already voted for the moderate Islamist contender Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh. He was less confident of the results.

"Some people are voting for Ahmed Shafiq and Amr Moussa (two Mubarak-era officials) because they want to keep the class system as it is. If Moussa or Shafiq win, we'll know there was fraud," he added.

Recent opinion polls have shown Shafiq, a former air force commander, taking the lead in the presidential race, in which 12 others are also running.

"The turnout is enormous and more than expected," said Hatem Begatu, the secretary general of the electoral commission.

He said that all but three polling stations had opened as scheduled, at 8 am (0600 GMT).

The polling, monitored by local and foreign non-governmental groups, was going on smoothly, state television reported.

The electoral commission has reported three candidates to the chief prosecutor for alleged violations of a campaigning ban during voting, the commission's head Farouk Sultan told reporters in Cairo.

They three were the Muslim Brotherhood's Morsi; independent Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh; and Shafiq.

Shafiq, speaking at a press conference in Cairo, said that if he became president, he would pay special attention to the young people who led the revolution against Mubarak.

"I promise to help them regain the revolution from those who have stolen it," said Shafiq. He denied being loyal to Mubarak, saying: "I did not work for a certain regime, I worked for Egypt."

Protesters threw stones and shoes at Shafiq after he cast his ballot on Wednesday, local media reported. They shouted "down with military rule" as they attacked the former air force commander.

Earlier on Wednesday, a policeman guarding a polling station in northern Cairo was killed in an exchange of fire with suspected criminals, reported the website of state television.

However, election officials denied the incident was linked to voting.

More than 50 million eligible voters - out of a population of around 80 million - were casting their ballots over the two-days of voting.

The more than 13,000 polling stations, spread across the country's 27 provinces, were to reopen Thursday at 8 am.

Around 300,000 military and security forces have been deployed across Egypt to secure that voting takes place safely.

Results are not expected until May 29.

If no candidate secures an outright majority in the first round, there will be a run-off between the top two candidates on June 16 and 17.

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