Egypt's opposition says assailants trashed their party

CAIRO — Egyptian opposition figures said Wednesday that assailants attacked a Ramadan party they hosted in Cairo, pelting them with plates and water bottles while chanting "long live Egypt!" the slogan of supporters of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

The outdoor iftar, a feast marking the end of the daily dawn-to-dusk fast during the holy month, was hosted by the Civil Democratic Movement, a coalition of secular and left-leaning parties that had called for a boycott of Egypt's March presidential election. El-Sissi won a second term after several potentially strong candidates were arrested or pressured into withdrawing.

Members of the opposition group said several people were lightly wounded, and posted pictures online showing overturned tables and food strewn across the ground. Khaled Dawoud, leader of the opposition Constitution Party, who attended the gathering, said around 10 people sitting at a separate table attacked the iftar.

Mohammed Zaree, a prominent human rights lawyer who also attended, told The Associated Press the attack appeared planned, since power at the social club went out as soon as the attack began and was restored after the attackers left and police arrived at the scene an hour later.

Zaree said most of the 70 guests at the iftar were chased out of the club by the attackers, who screamed "spies" and "traitors" while punching and kicking them.

Rights activists say Egyptian authorities have a long history of recruiting plainclothes thugs to attack protesters and opposition figures, a practice that allows officials to later deny involvement.

El-Sissi has overseen an unprecedented crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of critics. He has also rolled back freedoms gained in the wake of the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, placing draconian restrictions on rights groups, banning unauthorized demonstrations and blocking dozens of independents news websites.

The government stepped up the crackdown in recent weeks, arresting several high-profile bloggers and activists.

El-Sissi defended the conduct of the election in an address to another iftar party Tuesday night, saying the turnout showed that Egyptians "have a strong will which will prevail over everyone."

"No one can cast doubt on any activity, operation or measure during the election," he added.

The vote was staggered over three days in an apparent bid to boost turnout, which was around 41 percent. Critics say the government threatened disciplinary action if state employees didn't vote, and used food and money to lure others to the polls. The government has denied any wrongdoing.

El-Sissi's sole opponent was a little-known politician who expressed support for the president and made no effort to campaign against him.

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