Egyptian police on Wednesday arrested 25 members of the country's largest opposition movement, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, police officials and the Brotherhood said.
The dawn arrests in nine provinces were the latest in an ongoing crackdown on the Brotherhood and came one day after 17 other members were arrested in sweeps elsewhere in Egypt, the Brotherhood's official web site said.
A police official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, confirmed Wednesday's arrests.
The new arrests were believed to have targeted potential candidates or people related to the upcoming provincial council elections. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has announced these elections for April 8.
The group decided last week it would run in the April elections.
The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 but has been officially banned since in 1954. It is Egypt's largest opposition group with its lawmakers, who run as independents, holding more than a fifth of the seats in parliament's 454-member lower house.
The group had stunned the government by scoring large victories in the 2005 parliament elections, and as a result, Mubarak issued a decree two years ago delaying the provincial elections, which were supposed to be held in April 2006.
The 4,500 local councils are responsible for services at a district, town and village level and are critical institutions in Egypt's centralized state control.
The city councils have long been a backbone of support for Mubarak's National Democratic Party, though they previously had little power and their elections were widely ignored. But their importance increased with constitutional amendments passed in 2005 that require would-be candidates for president to obtain 250 recommendations from parliament and city council members to be eligible to run.
Authorities recently stepped up their campaign against the Brotherhood, making some 264 arrests _ including Brotherhood members, potential candidates for local elections, and university students affiliated with the group _ in the last two weeks.
About 400 others remain in prison since previous arrests, including the 33 on trial before Egypt's military court for money laundering and other charges.
The trial, which began last April, is one of the largest such tribunals in years here and comes as part of an intensified crackdown against the country's most powerful opposition movement. The verdict was postponed for March 25.
The Brotherhood advocates implementation of Islamic law but says it wants democratic reforms in Egypt, where the 79-year-old Mubarak has had a quarter century of authoritarian rule. The government accuses the group of seeking to take over the country.