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Egypt candidate to seek election suspension

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Third-place candidate Hamdeen Sabahi makes vote-rigging allegationsLeftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi will appeal for Egypt's presidential election to be suspended over alleged voting irregularities and a pending case over one of the frontrunner's right to stand, Sabahy's lawyer has said.

Sabahy's pledge to pursue a suspension came on Saturday as the two apparent winners of the first round of reached out to rival candidates ahead of a June run-off that appears set to polarise the country.

Final votes were still being counted, but unofficial results suggested that the top two vote-getters out of 12 candidates were the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Mursi and Ahmed Shafiq, a former prime minister under Hosni Mubarak.

International monitors have described the initial voting process as "encouraging".

On Friday night, the Brotherhood said it was seeking to create a coalition of forces to challenge Shafiq, reaching out to Mursi's former rivals, including Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, who left the organisation to run for president.

According to Egyptian state television, preliminary results showed Sabahy in third place behind Shafiq and Mursi after this week's first round. Only the top two go through to a runoff in mid-June.

"We will present an appeal on behalf of candidate Hamdeen Sabahy ... to the presidential electoral committee, citing a series of irregularities ... that have affected the outcome of the first round," lawyer Essam El-Islamboly told the Reuters news agency.

Islamboly said the appeal, to be lodged on Sunday or Monday at the latest, would ask the electoral committee to suspend the election until the prosecutor-general checks a claim by a police officer that the Interior Ministry had illegally assigned 900,000 votes to Shafiq.

He said Sabahy also wanted the election halted until the constitutional court rules on the validity of an April decision by the electoral committee to disqualify Shafiq.

The committee swiftly lifted its ban on Shafiq, but referred a new law barring top Mubarak-era officials from the race to the constitutional court.

'Revolution' stolen

The choice between Mursi and Shafiq, representing forces that have wrestled for the past six decades, has dismayed many Egyptians who voted for candidates offering a middle ground.

They fear a victory for the 70-year-old Shafi would snuff out hopes for change ignited by last year's uprising, while a win for Mursi would pitch Egypt into the uncertainties of experimenting with Islamic rule.

The Brotherhood invited Sabahy, Abol Fotouh and other politicians for talks to canvas their support before the runoff, but a source in Abol Fotouh's campaign said he would not attend.

Warning of "determined efforts to recreate the old regime", it said parties that supported the uprising against Mubarak must unite "so that the revolution is not stolen from us".

The Brotherhood already holds the biggest bloc in parliament after an election completed in January, but has been unable to assert itself against an army-appointed interim government.

Shafiq used strikingly similar language at a news conference in which he addressed youth groups that spearheaded last year's revolt. For many voters, he represents everything they want changed.

"Your revolution has been hijacked and I am committed to bringing [it] back," he told the youth that led the popular uprising in 2001, in an apparent reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which already controls parliament.

He urged those who "who dream and those who are angry, the ambitious and the despondent, the unemployed and the employed, the Muslims, the Copts, the Islamists, the liberals and the leftists," to unite.

"Let's build and not seek revenge," he told a news conference.

Much of his rhetoric indirectly targeted the Brotherhood, playing on fears among Egypt's minority Christians and secular liberals that a Mursi presidency would threaten their freedoms.

On Friday he told Egyptian television he saw no problem with the idea of a Muslim Brotherhood-led government if he were elected president.

Undrafted constitution

The generals who took over when Mubarak quit on February 11,2011, have promised to make way for a new president by July 1, formally ending a messy and often bloody political transition.

But the military, the source of all Egypt's past presidents,is keen to keep its privileges and influence, preferably enshrined in a new constitution.

Political wrangling has held up the drafting process, so the next president will take office not knowing his powers or those of parliament and government.

With a reputation as a good technocrat, Shafiq was appointed prime minister during Mubarak's last days in power in a bid to appease the popular revolt that eventually overthrew the longtime leader on February 11, 2011.

But he has been criticised for his association with the old regime and for having retained many Mubarak ministers in his cabinet, a decision that would force him to resign under pressure from youth movements that spearheaded the uprising.

Although Mursi topped the poll, his score was unimpressive compared to the Brotherhood's performance in the parliamentary election in which it gained nearly half the seats.

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