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Egypt's military ruler pardons opposition leader
Egypt's military ruler pardons opposition leader, clearing path to possible presidential run
By The Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) ' Egypt's military ruler has pardoned Ayman Nour, clearing an obstacle that would have prevented the prominent opposition politician from running for president.

Nour was sentenced to five years in prison for allegedly forging signatures on petitions to register his political party in 2005 when he ran against then-President Hosni Mubarak in elections.

At the time, Nour called the sentence a political punishment for his decision to challenge Mubarak.

Nour was freed on health grounds after nearly four years in prison.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi's pardon on Wednesday restores Nour's full political rights, including the right to hold public office.

Nour has said he would run for president after Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising last year.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

CAIRO (AP) ' A panel tasked with drawing up Egypt's new constitution convened Wednesday for the first time, despite a boycott by liberal members who accuse the Islamists that dominate the committee of trying to hijack the charter-writing process.

The bitter dispute over the makeup of the panel erupted over the weekend after parliament, where the Muslim Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salifis hold an overwhelming majority, named nearly 60 of their supporters to the committee, but only six women and six Christians. That triggered an outcry from liberals and secular-minded Egyptians, who say the constitution should be written by a broad swath of Egyptian society and not by a parliamentary majority.

At the committee's first session Wednesday, a quarter of the panel's members were absent. Nearly 20 people already have formally pulled out from the committee to protest what they describe as the Islamists' aspirations to monopolize the constitution-writing process. Among those to withdraw their support are two major liberal political parties ' the Egyptian Bloc and Wafd party.

Two more panel members walked out of Wednesday's meeting in protest after the committee elected its chief ' despite demands that the session be postponed until the crisis is resolved.

Wahid Abdel-Meguid, a liberal member of the Brotherhood-led alliance, said he left the session along with another lawmaker because convening the panel with a quarter of its members missing "sends a negative message ... and complicates the crisis."

The Muslim Brotherhood rejected allegations that it is trying to hijack the constitution-writing process, and countered by saying the percentage of Islamists on the committee corresponds to their election victory. The group also accused liberals of using their alleged media machine to wage an anti-Islamist campaign.

Ahmed al-Banna, the son of the Brotherhood's founder and a member of its senior decision-making body, said the Brotherhood ' not liberals ' is the victim of a "grave injustice."

"Democracy gives the majority the right to rule, but we can't rule because the minority wants to force its will on us," he said. "Is this rational?"

Also Wednesday, Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court withdrew its representative from the constitutional panel following allegations by the Brotherhood that the government threatened to use the court to dissolve parliament.

Judge Maher Sami told reporters that the court is not "a tool in the hands of the military council."

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