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Egypt returns to polls in landmark elections

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Egyptians began voting on Wednesday in the nation's first genuine presidential election Polling stations have reopened on the second day of Egypt's first free presidential election, 15 months after the government of former president Hosni Mubarak was toppled.

Polls reopened on Thursday at 8am local time (06:00 GMT) and are expected to close by 8pm (18:00 GMT).

With none of the 13 candidates bidding for Egypt's top job expected to win the first round outright, a second round is planned for mid-June.

Long queues

On Wednesday, large queues formed at some polling stations, and some were packed late into the evening. But turnout, so far, seemed lower than an earlier parliamentary vote when conservatives swept up most seats.

Voting passed off calmly for the most part, apart from a stone-throwing attack on candidate Ahmed Shafiq, who was Mubarak's last prime minister.

The race broadly pits religious conservative candidates against secular ones like Shafiq and Amr Moussa, the former Arab League chief who previously served as Mubarak's foreign minister.

"I'll vote on Thursday to avoid the crowds. I'm backing Amr Moussa. He knows the country and has the experience. I chose the Muslim Brotherhood's party in the parliamentary election but we didn't get anything from them," said 57-year-old Fouad Mahmoud.

Thirteen candidates are running to succeed Mubarak, whose government was brought down by mass protests in 2011 after 30 years of authoritarian rule.

They range from socialists to secular liberals to conservatives, and opinion polls indicate the race remains a toss-up.

The election is the final phase of a tumultuous transition marred by violence, protests and political deadlock, overseen by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) after last year's revolution.

South of Cairo's city centre, in working-class neighbourhoods such as Ain Sira and Abu Seoud, monitors from the campaigns of Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Brotherhood activist, were also observing the vote.

The SCAF has called on Egyptians to turn out en masse to the polls, while warning against any "violation".

"The participation of citizens in the presidential election is the best guarantee of the transparency and security of the electoral process," Mohammed al-Assar, a SCAF member, was quoted as saying by state news agency MENA.

The SCAF has pledged to hand power to civilian rule by the end of June, after a president is elected, but many fear its retreat will be just an illusion.

The army, with its vast and opaque economic power, wants to keep its budget a secret by remaining exempt from parliamentary scrutiny, maintain control of military-related legislation and secure immunity from prosecution.

The election comes less than two weeks before a court is expected to issue a verdict in the trial of Mubarak, 84, tried on charges of complicity in the killing of about 900 protesters during the uprising against his 29-year rule.

He also faces corruption charges, along with his two sons, Gamal and Alaa.

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