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Egypt widens crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood - group

Written by: Staff

CAIRO, Oct 27 (Reuters) Egypt has intensified its crackdown on the country's main opposition movement, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, with a new round of ''arbitrary arrests'', a human rights watchdog said.

US-based Human Rights Watch also called on Egypt to release all members of the Muslim Brotherhood it had detained in a campaign of arrests since March, and said the ban on the group was not justified.

Most recently, Human Rights Watch said, Egyptian security forces had detained eight Brotherhood members in the Nile Delta province of Manoufiya in mid-October.

''In a new round of arbitrary arrests, the Egyptian government has expanded its crackdown against members of the Muslim Brotherhood,'' the group said in a statement.

An interior ministry spokesman declined immediate comment.

The Muslim Brotherhood, while officially banned, operates relatively openly but is subject to frequent crackdowns by the government. Members elected as independents hold nearly a fifth of the seats in parliament.

Human Rights Watch said nearly 800 members of the Muslim Brotherhood had been detained between March and mid-October, most for brief periods. But 62 remained in custody.

Of those in jail, 33 were imprisoned without charges under provisions of Egypt's emergency law while the remainder were charged with belonging to an illegal organisation, the rights group said.

Human Rights Watch welcomed as ''good news'' the release earlier this month of Mahmoud Ezzat, Secretary-General of the group's Guidance Office, who was arrested in August, but said he should not have been arrested to begin with.

''Day after day, month after month, the government tramples on the rights of Egyptian citizens to ensure that it maintains its monopoly on power,'' said Sarah Leah Whitson, West Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

''The Muslim Brotherhood should not be banned, and its members should be freed,'' she said.

Other prominent Brotherhood members including political department head Essam el-Erian remain jailed, and earlier this month the group said Egypt had barred Brotherhood leader Mahdi Akef from travelling to Saudi Arabia for a religious pilgrimage.

Reuters DKS VP0442

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