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Local elections start in Egypt amid food protests

CAIRO, April 8 (RIA Novosti) - Egyptians are taking part in local elections Tuesday amid demonstrations against rising prices, low wages and boycotts by opposition groups after a clampdown by the ruling National Democratic Party.

President Hosni Mubarak's party has taken around 70% of the 52,000 council seats uncontested after a crackdown prior to voting left many opposition candidates under arrest or prevented from registering due to bureaucratic obstacles.

Around 1,000 members of the banned opposition party Muslim Brotherhood were reported to have been arrested leaving only around 21 candidates eligible to register for the polls compared with about 4,000 originally put forward.

"We have decided to boycott the municipal elections, to withdraw our candidates and to appeal to the people not to vote," a spokesman for the party has been quoted as saying.

The official news agency MENA said security was "tight" at polling stations.

Voter turnout is reported to be low with over 35 million Egyptians eligible to vote. However, most Egyptians are concerned by low wages and rising prices for staple foods like bread, rice and cooking oil, which have led to street demonstrations and clashes with police.

The worst of the street protests occurred in Mahalla el-Kobra, home to Egypt's largest textile mill, where thousands took to the street in two-days of demonstrations, which left around 15 people injured in the clashes and a 15-year-old boy shot dead by police Monday.

With at least 30% of Egyptians living on around $2 a day the doubling of staple food prices has caused shortages and hardship across the country leading to unrest. Price hikes have also hit the state economy hard with the government forced to spend more budget funds on bread subsidies.

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