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Egyptian police arrest 17 more opposition Muslim Brotherhood members

Egyptian police arrest 17 more opposition Muslim Brotherhood members

Police arrested 17 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood group in six Egyptian provinces on Tuesday, the police and the group's web site said.
The dawn arrests were the latest in the ongoing crackdown on the country's largest opposition movement. Also, Mahmoud Sayed Ghazlan, a senior leader of the Brotherhood, was arrested late Monday by state security, police officials said speaking on customary condition of anonymity.
Ghazlan is a member of the Guidance Bureau, the Brotherhood's highest decision-making body. He was freed in Aug. 2005, after spending more than three years in prison after being convicted by a military court in 2002 on charges of belonging to an illegal organization and recruiting members.
The latest arrests bring the total of Brotherhood members in custody to more than 300, according to figures provided by the group and the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
The Brotherhood condemned the arrests and the way the authorities are dealing with them.
"This dictatorial repressive way in which the authorities handle the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to marginalize their political role and their role in society, and to throw Egyptian political life into more stagnation and rigidity," Brotherhood leader Mohammed Mahdi Akef said in a statement posted Tuesday on the group's Web site.
"The new campaign is a direct reaction to the rejection by the Brotherhood lawmakers of (government) proposed constitutional amendment and their (planned) boycott of the Parliament's sessions on 19 and 20 March, when those amendments will be put for voting," he said.
On Monday, the Brotherhood and other opposition lawmakers rejected the controversial amendments and called on Egyptians to boycott referendum on them next month.
President Hosni Mubarak had in December asked the legislature to amend 34 articles in the constitution, as part of a political reform package _ the first major change in the constitution since 1971.
But the opposition, which represents about 25 percent of the 454-seat Parliament and includes both the Brotherhood and liberal groups, criticized the amendments for limiting judicial monitoring of elections, replacing temporary emergency laws which lawmakers voted on with a broad terrorism law that will become part of the constitution, and for banning the creation of political parties based on religious denomination _ a measure specifically aimed at the Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt's strongest Islamic opposition group. Its lawmakers hold parliament seats as independents because the movement is officially banned since 1954. It is, however, tolerated within strict limits and suffers regular police crackdowns. Following the 2005 elections, the group currently has 88 members in parliament.
Authorities intensified their campaign against the Brotherhood after student members of the group staged a militia-style demonstration at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo in December, stoking government fears the group was forming a military wing. The group denied this, saying the new campaign is a reaction to their opposition to the amendments.
"The Brotherhood will remain committed to its principles and peaceful path seeking peaceful reform through constitutional and legal channels," the Brotherhood's statement also said.
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