In a stunning result, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood captured at least 25 more seats in Egypt's parliament on Saturday, despite cordons of police that fired tear gas and rubber bullets in what appeared to be a determined government effort to block opposition voters and clamp off building momentum by the Islamic-based organization.
Early Interior Ministry figures showed the banned but tolerated Brotherhood increasing its share in parliament to at least 72 seats, a more than fourfold jump over its representation in the outgoing parliament -- with a third and final stage of voting still to go on Thursday, with a runoff likely six days after that.
The outcome, if it becomes final, would push the Brotherhood theoretically past number of seats needed under new constitutional rules to nominate a presidential candidate in 2011.
Armed backers of both Islamist and secular politicians engaged in fierce clashes that -- combined with police action -- severely curbed turnout and scarred an election that was seen as a test of Egypt's pledge to open its authoritarian political system.
Nongovernment organizations and judges monitoring the polls complained security forces blocked thousands of the 10 million eligible voters from entering polling stations in nine provinces where 122 seats were in play after no candidate garnered more than half the vote in the second round of polling.
Three prominent figures from President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) -- Ahmed Abu Zeid, El-Sayed Rashed and Mohammed Abdellah, the former head of parliament's foreign affairs committee and president of Alexandria University -- were among those turned out of the 454-seat People's Assembly, where the NDP had held an 80 percent majority.
Before Saturday's vote the Brotherhood -- Egypt's largest Islamist group -- had racked up 47 of 186 decided seats. Mubarak's NDP had won 122 seats and 17 went to other candidates in voting that began Nov. 9.
While there was no chance the Brotherhood would unseat the NDP, which with its allies held 388 of 454 seats in the previous People's Assembly, the Brotherhood showing was a stunning outcome for an organization that previously held only 15 seats, with 41 occupied by other parties. Mubarak appointees fill 10 seats.
The president, meanwhile, unexpectedly canceled plans to attend a EU-sponsored summit yesterday in Barcelona, Spain, at which Europe was to push for increased ties by linking billions of dollars in economic aid to sweeping democratic and other reforms on the Mediterranean's southern and eastern rims.
Presidential spokesman Suleiman Awwad said the press of developments in the Arab world were behind the cancellation and denied election violence was the cause.
Judge Hesham el-Bastawisy, deputy head of Egypt's Court of Cassation, denounced the violence in an interview with the Arab satellite television channel al-Arabiya.
"What we've been hearing since early morning about what is happening at polling stations indicates this is not an election. It's a battle. Judges have been attacked, some wounded, some prevented from entering polling stations," el-Bastawisy said.
Senior Muslim Brotherhood member Ali Abdel Fattah said police arrested 680 members and supporters nationwide on Saturday, with nearly 120 of that number detained in Alexandria alone.