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Egyptians go to polls to elect a president

CAIRO (Bloomberg News) -- Egyptians head to the polls today to choose the first president since the removal of Hosni Mubarak, passing a milestone in the country's march toward civilian rule after more than 15 months of turmoil.

The vote, which ends Thursday, pits secularists, Islamists, supporters of last year's revolt and former members of the ousted regime against each other, making it Egypt's first competitive presidential race.

No clear favorite has emerged, raising the likelihood that two-day run-offs will be held June 16. Final results would be released June 21.

A survey published in the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper has put former Arab League chief Amre Moussa, who also served as foreign minister under Mubarak, in first place.

Other polls have given the top spot to moderate Islamist and former Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh and Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak's last premier. Another contender is Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate.

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Shiites burn tires to protest kidnapping

BEIRUT (AP) -- The leader of Lebanon's Shiite militant group Hezbollah appealed for calm Tuesday after people blocked roads and burned tires in Beirut to protest the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shiites in neighboring Syria.

The abductions in Syria's Aleppo province fueled fears that Lebanon is getting drawn into the chaos next door.

The Lebanese were on their way home from a pilgrimage in Iran when Syrian rebels intercepted their vehicles, Syria's state-run SANA news agency said. The rebels abducted the 11 men and a Syrian driver.

As the news of the kidnappings spread, residents of the southern suburbs of Beirut, a Shiite area, burned tires and blocked roads in protest.

The leader of Hezbollah, a strong ally of the Syrian regime, appealed for calm and warned his followers against revenge attacks targeting Syrians.

"This is strictly prohibited," Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech.

He said the Lebanese government must press for the pilgrims' release.

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Putin seeks new fines against protesters

MOSCOW (AP) -- President Vladimir Putin targeted those who dare oppose him Tuesday, introducing draconian new fines for protesters.

A new law introducing a 200-fold increase in fines for taking part in unsanctioned protests was given preliminary approval by the Kremlin-controlled lower house of parliament, setting the stage for toughening Putin's crackdown.

Opposition lawmakers denounced the new fines as an attempt to stifle criticism, warning that it would fuel outrage and destabilize Russia by depriving the public of a way to express discontent.

Sergei Mironov, leader of the opposition Just Russia party, said his faction was boycotting the hearings on the "odious" bill intended to "shut the people's mouth."

Police on Tuesday rounded up members of the liberal Yabloko party who attempted to protest the new bill outside parliament. Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin told reporters before being detained by police that the law was intended to intimidate the opposition.

Putin has toughened his stance against the opposition since winning a third term in March's election.