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ElBaradei free to seek Egyptian presidency - Mubarak

BERLIN (Reuters) - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said on Thursday that former U.N. nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei was welcome to run for the presidency if he wants, but tartly dismissed any suggestion that he was a national hero.

Former U.N. nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei waits to get out of Cairo's airport February 19, 2010. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said on Thursday that former U.N. nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei was welcome to run for the presidency if he wants, but tartly dismissed any suggestion that he was a national hero. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Files

Mubarak, who has ruled for almost three decades, made the comments on a visit to Germany, during which he will undergo medical tests, the official Egyptian news agency MENA reported.

ElBaradei, one of Egypt’s best-known international figures after leading the International Atomic Energy Agency, arrived home last month to an exuberant reception from his supporters who want him to run for president in 2011.

“If he wants to join any political party as a citizen, he can do so. We do not have any restrictions on this. If he wants to run as an independent, he is also welcome,” Mubarak told a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

Analysts say election rules make it almost impossible for any candidate to stage a realistic challenge against the one nominated by Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

ElBaradei leads a coalition of opposition parties and other activists set up last week to press for political reform. He has garnered tens of thousands of supporters on Facebook and other sites backing him.

WE DON’T NEED HEROES

Mubarak, who was making his first comments on ElBaradei’s ambitions, bristled when a reporter asked whether the ex-IAEA chief was an Egyptian national hero.

“We do not need a national hero, here or there,” Mubarak said, in response to a question about ElBaradei’s welcome from supporters at Cairo airport.

Mubarak, 81, has not said whether he will run, but many Egyptians believe he will seek to hand the presidency to his son Gamal, 46, if he does not. Both Mubaraks deny this.

MENA, in its report on the news conference, said Mubarak was also in Germany for medical tests.

“President Hosni Mubarak will be heading on Friday afternoon to the German city of Heidelberg to undergo some medical tests ... and this is to follow up on a recurrent complaint from gall bladder pains,” it said.

Mubarak travelled to Germany in 2004 for surgery for a slipped disc at a Munich hospital, a case that sparked rumours and sent jitters through Egypt’s financial markets.

In 2003, he collapsed briefly during a speech to parliament. Officials said that was from a combination of cold medication and fasting in the month of Ramadan.

ElBaradei has stirred Egypt’s calcified politics, saying he would consider running for president but wants constitutional changes with checks on power and guarantees of a fair vote. Analysts say such changes are unlikely to be implemented.

“We do not have any restrictions in this field, according to the constitution,” Mubarak added.

ElBaradei has so far refused to run for an established party, one route to nomination, and to run as an independent he would need the backing of 250 elected representatives across parliament and local councils -- all dominated by the NDP.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber, writing by David Stamp in Berlin and Dina Zayed in Cairo; editing by Andrew Roche

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