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Popular figure to run in Egypt elections

Combined news services

CAIRO - Arab League chief Amr Moussa, a popular career diplomat, said Sunday he plans to run in Egypt's presidential election expected later this year.

Moussa, a former foreign minister, declared his candidacy a day after a constitutional reform panel appointed by the new military rulers recommended far-reaching reforms that relaxed eligibility rules governing who can run for president.

The changes, if adopted in a national referendum, would open the elections to more competition and impose a two-term limit on presidents, a dramatic shift from a system that allowed Hosni Mubarak to rule for three decades. Moussa told reporters the amendments were still under discussion but that any Egyptian can now run for president.

"God willing, I will be one of them," he said.

Moussa enjoys wide popularity, largely because of his scathing criticism of Israel, seen by most Egyptians as an enemy despite the 1979 peace treaty between the two neighbors.

During the 18-day uprising that forced Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11, Moussa visited Cairo's central Tahrir Square - the epicenter of protests. His convoy was greeted with chants of "We want you as president, we want you as president!"

Earlier Sunday, about 500 protested in the square to demand that Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq resign, saying he is a continuation of Mubarak's rule. Shafiq has remained as part of a caretaker government after Mubarak appointed him early on in the uprising in a failed attempt to defuse the unrest.

In the southern province of Assiut, villagers blocked a highway for five hours with burning tires and set fire to three government buildings to protest corruption, witnesses said. In another village in the area, protesters demanding an investigation into government corruption set fire to three government buildings.

Also Sunday, more than 2,000 employees of the Assiut provincial government went on strike for better living conditions, saying senior officials were distributing social benefits unfairly.

Elsewhere:

TUNISIA. The interim president chose a former government minister as new prime minister Sunday, appealing for a return to calm following new protests that have been hobbling the country. Beji Caid-Essebsi will replace Mohammed Ghannouchi, who resigned yesterday after becoming a major irritant to Tunisians behind the so-called "Jasmine Revolution" that toppled President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last month.

SAUDI ARABIA. More than 100 leading academics and activists urged King Abdullah to enact sweeping reforms, including setting up a constitutional monarchy, and he ordered Sunday that government-sector workers with temporary contracts be given permanent jobs.

OMAN. Hundreds of Omanis, many unemployed, gathered in a sit-in for a second day in the city of Sohar, refusing to go home after a pledge by the nation's ruler, Qaboos Bin Said, to provide jobs. Two demonstrators were killed and several were wounded in clashes with police earlier Sunday.

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