Egyptian president: National security is top priority

Egyptian president: National security is top priority

Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak said the country's top priority is national security during a speech at his party's annual conference on Saturday evening, dpa reported.

"Nothing comes ahead of Egypt's national security," he said during his 30-minute address.

Mubarak, who began his career in the Air Force, allocates billions of dollars each year to the country's security apparatus and is said to be one of the most tightly guarded presidents in the world.

The 82-year-old leader, who has ruled over Egypt for nearly 30 years, spoke before the country's ministers and an auditorium filled with hundreds of National Democratic Party (NDP) members - with key party leaders in the front row, including his son Gamal Mubarak.

The younger Mubarak, who chairs the party's policies committee, is rumoured to be a possible candidate for the presidency.

The ailing and elder Mubarak has not said whether he intends to seek another six-year term in next year's election, although he has previously said he would serve until his last breath.

During his speech, Mubarak broadly outlined his party's goals following an election sweep in the lower house of parliament last month, in which the NDP won more than 80 per cent of seats.

"We will take clear and mindful steps in the next five years that will affect citizens," Mubarak said.

Around 20 minutes into the speech, party members interrupted the president with applause, leading Mubarak to joke, "So then, why haven't you clapped until now?"

Party members interrupted him twice more to yell out praises and wish him a long life.

Opposition groups held a parallel gathering in another part of Cairo on Saturday to discuss accusations of fraud in the recent parliamentary elections, after they lost most of their seats to the NDP in the 518-seat People's Assembly.

The grouping, led by the opposition April 6 Movement, began its meeting with discussions on a proposal to establish a "shadow parliament" in light of the electorial fraud allegations.

Leading opposition figures attended the meeting, with former United Nations nuclear watchdog chief and opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei expected to take part.

The NDP's three-day conference was held under tight security. Some leading media outlets, including the satellite network al-Jazeera, were denied permits for the conference with no specific reason given.

Most conference sessions were also closed to the public, with the notable exception of a policy speech by Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul- Gheit, which broke little new ground.

"We cannot have a nuclear armed Iran and a nuclear armed Israel with Arabs in the middle taking cover," Aboul-Gheit said, restating a long-held Egyptian position on a nuclear-free Middle East.

The foreign minister also touched on the upcoming referendum on secession in southern Sudan and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

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