updated 7/28/2005 5:48:54 AM ET 2005-07-28T09:48:54

President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s leader for almost a quarter of a century, said Thursday that he’ll run in the country’s first-ever multi-candidate elections in September.

The 77-year-old Mubarak made the widely expected announcement during a nationally televised speech delivered in Shibin el Kom, the capital of the Nile delta province of Menoufia, where he was born.

“I announce in front of you from here, the province of Menoufia, that I have decided to nominate myself for the presidential elections,” said Mubarak, whose speech was immediately interrupted by wild applause from hundreds of supporters, including his wife, Suzanne, and son, Gamal.

After stepping off the podium, the president was swarmed by hugging and kissing supporters who cheered throughout his hour-long speech delivered at the secondary school he graduated from in 1946.

Scores of bodyguards surrounded Mubarak as he waded into the crowd to accept the greetings of some of his most fervent supporters and members of his ruling National Democratic Party.

In a wide-ranging address that touched on his upbringing in this region north of Cairo and his role as Egypt’s air force commander during the October 1973 war with Israel, Mubarak also laid out his vision for the future following his likely Sept. 7 election win.

Proposal for new anti-terrorism laws
Days after Egypt’s deadliest ever terrorist attacks in the Sinai Peninsula resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Mubarak also proposed introducing a new anti-terrorism law to replace highly criticized emergency laws in place since the 1981 assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, by Islamic extremists during a Cairo military parade.

“The time has come to create decisive role to fight terrorism ... (by introducing) a law that would be a legislative replacement for the emergency law in combating terrorism,” said Mubarak.

Political activists and human rights groups have long criticized Egypt’s emergency laws for giving authorities wide powers to arrest, detain people for extended periods without formal charges and bring civilians before military courts, from which appeals are limited.

Mubarak also called for an Arab leaders summit to be held on Wednesday in Sharm, where three pre-dawn bombings killed up to 88 people, according to hospital officials. Egypt’s Health Ministry said 64 people died, but numerous body parts have not been identified.

In four previous presidential referendums, Mubarak has won each with landslide results as the sole candidate offered to the public.

But amid local and U.S.-led calls for greater democratic freedoms in the Middle East, Mubarak earlier this year directed the parliament to amend Egypt’s constitution to allow for direct presidential elections open to more than one candidate.

While the move was initially hailed by pro-democracy proponents, many opposition activists have since complained that the amendments did not go far enough and, instead, placed almost insurmountable restrictions on people wanting to challenge Mubarak.

The constitutional amendments bar dual citizens from running and stipulate that independent candidates must get 250 recommendations from elected members of both houses of parliament and city councils to run. Because each body is dominated by Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party, opposition members say it is virtually impossible to get so many recommendations.

In calling for the summit, Mubarak said the Arab world is witnessing “worrisome developments from the situation on the Palestinian arena to the situation in Iraq to many other challenges,” adding there was “a need to formulate a shared Arab vision.”

Mubarak, who has long battled extremist groups in Egypt, did not say why he wanted the summit held in Sharm, but it was apparently chosen in a sign of resolve by the government in the face of Saturday’s pre-dawn attacks in the Red Sea resort.

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