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Islamists claim victory in first day of constitutional vote

Islamist supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi have claimed victory after the first day of voting in a referendum on the country’s draft constitution. However, there have been claims of voting irregularities.

Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party said in a statement posted on its website that 56.5 percent of those who voted on Saturday had cast their ballots in favor of the draft constitution. A senior party official told the Reuters news agency that this figure was based on unofficial tallies provided by returning officers. He said the count included results from 99 percent of the polling stations in the 10 provinces involved in Saturday's voting.

Egyptian media reported similar figures, based on unofficial results.

The opposition though, provided differing figures. Shortly after the polls closed, the National Salvation Front, a coalition of opposition groups, claimed two-thirds of voters had rejected the constitution. However, one of its main groups, the Popular Current, reported on its Facebook page that around 56 percent had voted in favor of the draft, with most of the votes counted.

While emotions ran high leading up to the controversial referendum, with a series of demonstrations both against and for the constitution, Saturday's voting appeared to be largely peaceful. However, a group of Islamists is reported to have attacked the offices of the newspaper of the opposition Wafd party on Saturday night.

Claims of voting irregularities

The committee supervising the referendum extended the vote by four hours beyond when the polls were originally meant to close, due to long lines of voters that remained outside of many polling stations.

The National Salvation Front also complained of alleged voter fraud, according to the AFP news agency. It cited reports of unsealed ballot enveloped and a judge preventing Christians from voting at one polling station in Cairo.

Germany's DPA agency also reported a claim of voting irregularities from a prominent Egyptian human rights activist.

"All forms of fraud recorded in the era of [former President Hosni] Mubarak were seen again today," Hafez Abu Saada told privately owned Dream TV.

The draft referendum, which was drafted by a legislative council dominated by members of the Islamist Freedom and Justice Party - the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood -is highly controversial.

The opposition has argued that if ratified, the constitution would undermine human rights in the country, particularly regarding women and religious minorities.

pfd/hc (AFP, Reuters, dpa)