Egypt's opposition leader on hunger strike

NADIA ABOU EL-MAGD
The Independent

Cairo - Detained opposition leader Ayman Nour has begun a hunger strike, his wife Gameela Ismail said on Thursday. The move is likely to increase concerns for Nour, a diabetic whose recent detention has been strongly criticised by the US Secretary of State and American newspapers.
Nour has been refusing food since Tuesday, Gameela said, citing a letter she received from her husband on Thursday.
Unidentified men in track suits assaulted members of Nour's al-Ghad Party at a political meeting in Giza on Thursday night, witnesses said.
Al-Ghad has only seven legislators in Egypt's 454-seat parliament but the detention of the populist politician has drawn wide attention, partly because Nour champions a call for more than one candidate to be allowed to run in this year's presidential elections Nour suffered a severe heart problem on Monday after six hours of interrogation by state security prosecutors. They refused to transfer Nour to a nearby hospital and instructed prison doctors to treat him.
Wael Nawara, an assistant to Nour, said he was about to address a gathering at the Pyramisa Hotel when "about 10 to 15 men wearing track suits, who looked like state security agents, entered the hall, and started punching me."
Nawara said the men seized his mobile phone and broke his spectacles.
"I sustained an injury to my head but not very deep," Nawara said. "They were hitting me to hurt me more than to wound me." He added the men also assaulted Sameh Atteya and Ihab el-Khouli, two lawyers who belong to al-Ghad.
Nawara, 43, said the assailants did not stay long, but told him as they left "we hope that you got the message."
Police declined to comment on the incident, but a security officer at the Pyramisa confirmed the incident. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
Nawara said he was going to speak about the need for a constitutional amendment to allow multi-candidate elections for president. The meeting was hosted by a local human rights group.
Nour, 40, was detained on allegations of forging nearly 2 000 signatures to secure a license for his party last year. He has denied the accusation.
Egyptian and international human rights groups have called on Egypt to release Nour, saying his detention is politically motivated. The prosecutor general has denied this.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said she raised "very strong concerns" about Nour's detention when she met Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in Washington last week.
The detention has also been criticised by The New York Times and The Washington Post, which said in a editorial on Thursday that Nour was in jail because "he offered a fresh democratic alternative in a Middle East stirred by the votes of Iraqis and Palestinians."
The government has rejected US criticism as interference in its affairs.
Egypt holds presidential referendums in which people vote "yes" or "no" for a single candidate, who has been approved by parliament. The legislature has been dominated by President Hosni Mubarak's ruling party since political parties were restored in the 1970s.
Mubarak, 76, who has been president since 1981, has hinted he will stand for a fifth term later this year.