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Egypt’s military ruler meets political leaders amid election turmoil

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Egypt’s military ruler will hold talks with political leaders on Sunday after next month’s presidential election was thrown into further turmoil with the disqualification of key candidates.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi will meet the heads of political parties and groups to discuss major developments five weeks ahead of the first presidential election since a popular uprising ousted long-time leader Hosni Mubarak last year, the state-owned Al-Akhbar reported.

On Saturday, Egypt’s election commission said that 10 of the 23 registered presidential candidates had been barred from the race, including ex-spy chief Omar Suleiman, Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat El-Shater and popular Salafist politician Hazem Abu Ismail.

Commission official Tarek Abul Atta told AFP that Suleiman had been disqualified because he failed to get enough endorsements from 15 provinces as required under the law.

Shater, who was released from prison in March last year, was barred because of a law stating that candidates can only run in elections six years after being released or pardoned, Abul Atta said.

Shater, who was deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood -- banned under Mubarak -- had been in jail on charges of terrorism and money laundering.

Abu Ismail is out of the race because his mother holds another nationality, violating election rules which state that all candidates, their parents and their wives must have only Egyptian citizenship.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) headed by Tantawi, which took power when Mubarak was ousted, will also examine a law passed by parliament that would ban members of the former regime from standing for office.

If approved, the law could also see Ahmed Shafiq -- Mubarak’s last prime minister -- excluded from the race.

The military council will also discuss a recent court ruling suspending an Islamist-dominated panel that was tasked with drafting the country’s new constitution.

The presidential election is the climax of a transition to civilian rule being led by the SCAF that has promised to hand power to civilian rule in June after a president has been elected.

The disqualification of candidates have added to the drama of a transition punctuated by spasms of violence and now mired in bitter political rivalries between once-banned Islamists, secular-minded reformists and remnants of the Mubarak order.

The elimination of the three most powerful and controversial candidates could go in two directions with just weeks to go before the vote, observers said. It could plunge the Arab world’s most populous nation into a new political crisis, or just the opposite, defuse it.