Two days of voting in Egypt's first free presidential election have finished. The Egyptian electoral commission said vote counting would begin immediately. Final results are not expected until May 29.
Roughly 50 million people were eligible to vote for one of 12 candidates for the Egyptian presidency. The country's electoral commission said vote counting began immediately after the polls closed at 9 p.m. local time (1900 GMT).
Authorities declared a public holiday in Egypt on Thursday to allow public sector workers to cast their votes. The government said it expected turnout to be high.
"The people now know their votes count," state television quoted Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri as saying.
Final results are not expected before Tuesday, with the tight race being predicted likely to lead to a second round vote between the top two contenders on June 16 and 17. A single candidate would need to win a clear majority of the vote to prevent a runoff.
Links with former regime
Observers billed the ballot as a battle between the established order and the spirit of the public uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak 15 months ago.
Two lead candidates often accused of ties to the deposed regime are Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, and former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Moussa.
The more popular candidates, seen as a clean break from the past, are moderate Islamist Abdul-Moneim Abul-Fotou, the leftist hopeful Hamdeen Sabahy and the candidate of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, Ahmed Shafiq.
There were mixed reports on turnout around the country, with some polling stations reporting massive queues and others talking of scant voter participation.
President Mubarak had held power for nearly three decades before he was ousted.
msh/rc (AFP, AP, dpa)