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Police Block Meeting to Respond to Crackdown on Brotherhood

August 7, 1995

MENOUFIA, Egypt (AP) _ Dozens of policemen prevented supporters of Egypt’s largest Islamic group from holding a news conference Monday to respond to a government crackdown on the group.

An armored vehicle was parked outside the building and police with clubs and shields stood in a line across the entrance, blocking members from entering. There were no clashes or arrests.

The meeting was to respond to the detention last month of 200 suspected supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s mainstream Islamic opposition, which has renounced using violence in its campaign to make Egypt a strict Islamic state.

The government began detaining members of the Muslim Brotherhood in January. It accused the group of forging links with militants who have fought a three-year campaign to topple the government and create a strict Islamic state.

The brotherhood, which has an estimated 100,000 members, is technically illegal, but has participated in past elections and controls the majority of Egypt’s professional unions.

It has denied any links with the Muslim militants and maintains the arrests of its members are a government attempt to discredit the group before November parliamentary elections.

The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of Egypt’s police, refused to comment on Monday’s incident.

More than 20 brotherhood supporters, including members of professional unions for lawyers, doctors and engineers, showed up for the news conference in Menoufia, a Nile delta city 65 miles northwest of Cairo.

Several who managed to talk to reporters after police blocked the way into the building said the move was typical of the government’s treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood.

``The margin of democracy that we have, even that doesn’t exist,″ said Ali Shaalan, secretary-general of the lawyers’ syndicate and a brotherhood supporter. ``This action cannot be explained in any way other than an act of terrorism.″

The brotherhood denies government assertions that the 200 activists arrested last month were attending a military training course. It says the youth camp was sanctioned by the government.

The radicals’ campaign has led to more than 780 deaths. Most of the dead have been militants and police who have fought almost daily battles in southern Egypt.

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