Egyptian opposition Islamists held for 15 days 

CAIRO (Reuters)  

Egyptian prosecutors have ordered that 140 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, including deputy leader Khairat el-Shatir, stay in detention for 15 days for questioning, judicial sources said on Saturday.  

Police rounded up the Islamists on Thursday morning in a crackdown connected with student activism at al-Azhar University and a protest march in which several dozen Islamist students wore black militia-style uniforms and black balaclavas. 

The prosecutors will investigate the possibility that the Brotherhood members had offensive weapons, took part in a public show of strength and possessed Muslim Brotherhood leaflets and documents, the sources said. 

In their appearance before a state security prosecutor on Saturday, the students chose to wear white clothing of the kind worn by detainees in preventive detention, as if to say that their detention was a forgone conclusion. 

Prosecutors showed the students confiscated military-style clothing, but the students refused to speak and their lawyers walked out in protest. A Brotherhood official said police initially arrested 180 people and released 40 of them on Friday. 

The other deputy leader of the Brotherhood, Mohamed Habib, said in an interview the arrests were a smokescreen to reduce the opposition to the constitutional amendments which the government plans to present to parliament. "It's a preemptive strike so that no opponents of the regime are left on the scene. The regime has taken this talk about the march as a pretext for unjustified detention," Habib told the Iranian satellite channel al-Alam. 

The ruling National Democratic Party has not released its proposals for changing the constitution but analysts say they doubt the next version will remove the obstacles to the Brotherhood fielding a presidential candidate. 

Shatir, one of two deputies to Brotherhood General Guide Mohamed Mahdi Akef, is the most senior member of the Islamist group detained since Mahmoud Ezzat, the secretary-general of its Guidance Office, was released in August last year. 

An Interior Ministry statement said the Brotherhood leadership had planned and incited acts of public disorder this week at al-Azhar University. The Brotherhood is the country's largest opposition group, with 88 members in the 454-seat lower house of parliament.

It says its aim is to persuade Egyptians by democratic means to choose an Islamic state. The government refuses to recognise the movement and the police frequently harass its members by detaining them without charge, sometimes for many months at a stretch.

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