CAIRO - Independent groups trying to monitor Egypt's landmark presidential vote on Wednesday charged that their representatives had been barred access to polling stations and even beaten up.
The electoral commission announced two hours after polling opened that independent monitors would be allowed to work inside polling stations, after opposition groups voiced fears of widespread fraud, rescinding a previous ban.
"Monitors, in most cases, are still not being allowed access inside the polling stations despite this morning's announcement by Mahmud Marai, chairman of the presidential electoral committee to the contrary," a coalition of monitoring groups said.
Monitors have been "beaten, apprehended and interrogated," especially in southern Egypt, the Independent Committee for Election Monitoring said in a preliminary report.
It also highlighted a number of problems with the vote, pointing out that the vast majority of voting stations were "not properly identified as polling centres" and that an estimated 20 percent of them were late opening.
"As of now, approximately 90 percent of the polling stations have campaign material supporting one of the candidates displayed outside," the committee said.
"The vast majority of this material is supporting the incumbent (Hosni) Mubarak, with a small minority representing Al-Ghad and Al-Wafd," the parties of Ayman Nur and Numan Gumaa respectively, it added.
AFP correspondents across Egypt also witnessed scores of supporters of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party ostensibly campaigning in front of the polling stations as voters trickled in.
Egyptians for the first time have a choice of 10 candidates including Mubarak in a landmark presidential election which the government has hailed as a major step towards democracy.
Observers and opposition leaders have voiced their fears of widespread fraud by the NDP, and the country's judges -- tasked with supervising the polling process -- have already said they would not endorse the results.
The IECM claims to have 2,200 trained monitors deployed across the country.