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Egypt interim PM backs army chief for president

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[January 23, 2014]  By Mirna Sleiman

DAVOS (Reuters)  Egyptian interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said on Thursday he backed General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for president, one of the highest-level endorsements for a widely expected presidential bid by the army chief.

Sisi, who deposed Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in July after mass protests against his year-long rule, has yet to announce his candidacy for an election that could happen as soon as March or April.

"General Sisi has a very strong popular support and definitely he is a candidate who we can count on but of course the final judge is the people," Beblawi told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Sisi is seen as the only real contender for the presidency. He enjoys broad support among Egyptians who rallied against Mursi's rule. His supporters depict him as a national hero for deposing Mursi, but the Islamist opposition depicts him as the mastermind of a bloody coup against a freely elected leader.

The prospect of a more stable political order has helped the stock market to hit three-year highs this month.

The army-backed authorities are pressing ahead with a political transition plan designed to lead to presidential and parliamentary elections later this year.

A new constitution was approved by more than 98 percent of voters who took part in a referendum last week.

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Many Egyptians, who were happy to see an end to Mursi's Islamist rule, believe a firm hand is needed to steer the country through crisis and are calling for Sisi to run for president.

(Writing by Asma Alsharif in Cairo; editing by Tom Perry and Alison Williams)

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