US urges Egypt to allow foreign election observers

The United States on Monday said Egypt should allow peaceful political gatherings, open media coverage and international observers in the run up to its 28 November parliamentary election.

Egypt's rights record has been criticized by allies and international human rights groups that say the authorities use force against political opponents and voters to keep President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party in power.

Ahead of the 28 November vote, the authorities have taken steps critics believe are designed to curb media freedom and limit the chances of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, which remains officially banned but has fielded candidates as independents.

Egypt, the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel, is seldom a target of US criticism. It receives significant US aid and is a key ally in President Barack Obama's effort to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Egyptian government has said it would allow Egyptian civil society groups to monitor the parliamentary vote but has refused to allow foreign observers.

"We welcome the government of Egypt's stated commitment to expanding political participation and ensuring free and transparent elections, including facilitating domestic monitoring by civil society groups," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a written statement.

"Fair and transparent elections would include peaceful political assemblies throughout the campaign, civil society organizations freely promoting voter education and participation, and an open media environment that offers balanced coverage for all candidates," he said.

"An open electoral process would include a credible and impartial mechanism for reviewing election-related complaints, a domestic election observation effort according to international standards, and the presence of international observers," Crowley said.

Amnesty International on 19 October called on Egypt to release or charge members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood who have been detained in the run-up to the parliamentary election.

The Brotherhood is banned but controls one-fifth of the lower house of parliament seats, won by fielding candidates as independents. Its members are regularly rounded up and often held for long periods without charge, before being freed.

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