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Egypt

Polls close after two days of voting on Egypt's new constitution

Egyptians have finished voting on a new constitution after two days at the polls. The referendum's second day was much more peaceful than Tuesday, which featured deadly clashes between protesters and security forces.

State television said counting had already begun after voting on Egypt's draft constitution ended Wednesday, though it is unclear when official results will be announced. The measure is widely expected to pass, despite protests and a smaller voter turnout than on Tuesday.

Voting was generally more peaceful on Wednesday than the first day of Egypt's constitutional referendum. Officials said police arrested 79 people during protests in support of former President Mohammed Morsi, who was removed from office in a coup last July.

Security was boosted Wednesday in areas that saw violence the day before, when at least nine people were killed and more than 200 were arrested. Some polling stations in the village of Nahia on Cairo's western outskirts, where one person was killed on Tuesday, were briefly closed early in the evening after protesters clashed with police, according to state-run newspaper Al-Ahram.

Sissi's bellwether

Army chief General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the man who orchestrated the coup against Morsi, closely followed the voting. He has indicated he would be interested in a presidential bid if there was "popular demand," and is widely expected to seek Egypt's highest office.

The two-day referendum was seen by its supporters as an important step in establishing a democratically elected government in Egypt. It was the first time the country had gone to the polls since Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, was ousted.

The army-appointed government hopes a strong turnout will send a signal of support to Sissi, who is reviled by Morsi supporters for his role in the coup, but adored by millions who called for the former president's overthrow. Many people at polling stations around the country chanted slogans in support of the army chief.

Controversial legislation

The Muslim Brotherhood, which backs Morsi and has been the target of a violent government crackdown, boycotted what they called a "sham" vote. Monitors suspected of having ties to the organization were barred from participating in the referendum and judges tasked with overseeing the process were carefully selected to avoid those with any links to the Brotherhood.

The lead-up to the vote featured a heavy pro-constitution campaign. Many of those lobbying against the referendum were arrested.

Hundreds of thousands of troops and police were deployed throughout the country to boost security at the approximately 30,000 polling stations. Some 53,000 million Egyptians were eligible to vote for the draft charter, which was stripped of the Islamist language included in the one passed while Morsi was still in office. It also bolstered the powers given to the army, police and judiciary.

dr/ph (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)

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