Source AP ©

Egypt police arrest 45 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood

Police arrested 45 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood as part of Egypt's ongoing campaign against the country's strongest opposition group.

The Brotherhood said in a statement that 16 of its members were arrested at dawn on Monday in Sharqiyya Province, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Cairo. Eleven others, including two children, were arrested in the southern town of Beni Sueif, according to the statement posted on the group's Web site.

Later Monday, 18 additional members were arrested in Kafr el-Sheikh, the group said.

Police officials confirmed the arrests on condition of anonymity since they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Monday's crackdown was the second in Sharqiyya in the past two days. The interior ministry announced Sunday that it had arrested 14 Brotherhood members in the province. They were ordered detained for 15 days pending investigation.

The Brotherhood has been banned since 1954 but has continued to operate and is Egypt's most powerful opposition movement. Its lawmakers, who run as independents, hold 88 seats in the 454-seat parliament.

The Brotherhood advocates implementation of Islamic law but says it wants democratic reforms in Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak has had a quarter-century of authoritarian rule.

The government accuses the group of seeking to take over the country and passed a series of constitutional amendments in March that further curtailed the Brotherhood's ability to participate in politics.

Nevertheless, the group has announced that it will field up to 20 candidates in June elections for the upper house of parliament, known as the Shura Council.

The Brotherhood issued a statement Sunday saying that 18 members had managed to complete their registrations for Shura Council elections, scheduled for June 11.

The Brotherhood said the 11 arrested in Beni Sueif, a farming town about 90 kilometers (60 miles) south of Cairo, were supporters of the group's candidate there. Similarly, the 18 arrested in Kafr el-Sheikh were supporters of the Brotherhood's candidate in that town, located 180 kilometers (110 miles) north of Cairo.

Crackdowns against the Brotherhood usually intensify before elections.

About 400 Brotherhood members, including leading figures, students and bloggers, have been arrested in a crackdown since December, when Brotherhood students carried out a military-like parade. That prompted government accusations that the movement was forming an armed wing, providing students with combat training, knives and chains. The group denies forming a militia.

A military trial of 40 top Brotherhood figures on terrorism and money laundering charges began late last month, one of the largest such tribunals in years.

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