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Egypt's ElBaradei to lead coalition seeking change

CAIRO (Reuters) - About 30 Egyptian opposition politicians and activists have agreed to form a coalition for political change led by former U.N. nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei, who has said he might bid for president.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, arrives at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo February 22, 2010. REUTERS/Tarek Mostafa

Members of some of Egypt’s long marginalized opposition parties and protest movement leaders met ElBaradei on Tuesday and Wednesday to launch a campaign for constitutional change before 2010 parliamentary and 2011 presidential elections.

Several involved in the talks told Reuters the group agreed to form a “National Coalition for Change,” headed by ElBaradei, 67, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who returned to Egypt on Friday to a jubilant welcome.

The high-profile diplomat has said he would consider challenging Hosni Mubarak, president for almost three decades.

Decades of autocratic rule have weakened and fractured Egypt’s opposition. ElBaradei’s return has provided a new focal point to rally support.

Mubarak, 81, has not said if he will seek another presidential term. But many Egyptians expect him to run again or to hand power to his politician son, Gamal, 46. Both have denied any succession plan.

“All representatives at the meeting concurred and pressed ElBaradei to lead the coalition for change,” Hassan Nafaa, an academic and coordinator of the Egyptian Campaign Against Presidential Succession, said.

Nafaa and others said ElBaradei agreed to take the role.

The coalition will collect signatures to lobby the government to change the constitution and make it easier for independents to run and to revoke Emergency Law, which has been in place since 1981 and allows detention without charges.

Election rules now make it almost impossible for anyone to make a realistic presidential bid without the backing of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party.

Those at the talks included leaders of the Democratic Front party, the liberal Constitutional Party, the Ghad party, a faction of the Wafd party and representatives from protest movements Kefaya and the Sixth of April Youth.

“ElBaradei’s and the Brotherhood’s call for political and social change converge,” Mohamed el-Katatni, who heads the Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary bloc, said.

The Brotherhood holds by far the biggest opposition bloc in parliament with 20 percent of seats. It is officially banned but its members won seats by running as independents.

“Egyptians of all walks of life and political backgrounds want political and social reforms. But now this call is being voiced by someone of a high international stature,” said AbdulRahman Yusuf, who runs a Facebook group with more than 80,000 online backers for ElBaradei’s bid.

ElBaradei has said he would only run for president if there were guarantees of fair elections and constitutional changes to put checks on power, terms analysts say are unlikely to be met.

Writing and reporting by Marwa Awad; additional reporting by Dina Zayed and Mohamed Abdellah; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton