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‘Health Crisis’ Interrupts Mubarak Speech

November 19, 2003

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak interrupted a nationally televised speech to parliament Wednesday for more than 30 minutes because of what was described as a ``health crisis″ before resuming the address amid cheers from lawmakers.

After his return, the only president a generation of Egyptians has known spoke for less than five minutes and then adjourned the parliament session.

``My brothers and sisters, members of the (upper and lower houses of parliament), the people gave me the responsibility of building the future of this nation. And I did it with honor,″ said Mubarak, who had been described as suffering a cold aggravated by fasting for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. After concluding the speech, he was driven away in a limousine.

Before the interruption, the 75-year-old Mubarak’s voice had begun to weaken and his speech sounded slightly slurred. His voice was stronger when he returned, and he responded to shouts of support from members of parliament with smiles, waves and thanks before returning to his speech on domestic and foreign policy, which appeared to have been cut short.

Mubarak has led Egypt since Anwar Sadat was assassinated by a Muslim extremist on Oct. 6, 1981. Mubarak was Sadat’s vice president.

Recent months have seen speculation Mubarak was grooming his son Gamal to succeed him.

Egypt is a key U.S. ally seen as a moderate mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Lawmaker Murtaza Mansour told The Associated Press that Mubarak had complained that the hall was hot and was sweating before his speech was interrupted. Mansour said Mubarak was able to walk away from the podium without aid.

Minister of Health Mohamed Awad Tag Eddin, who is a doctor, told state television Mubarak had a cold and suffered a slight dip in blood pressure. The minister said Mubarak underwent a checkup before resuming his speech.

A state television announcer had said: ``The president has suffered a health crisis″ after the broadcast was briefly cut. When the broadcast resumed, it showed members of parliament milling in the hall and Mubarak no longer at the podium. State television continued to broadcast from parliament until Mubarak returned.

The parliament speaker, Fathi Sorour, then took the podium to announce: ``Mr. President is fine and he will be back in minutes.″ A Muslim and a Coptic cleric rose to lead prayers for the president’s health, to which members responded with ``amens.″

Traffic in downtown Cairo was stopped and a helicopter was seen approaching the parliament building as the parliament and the nation awaited Mubarak’s return.

Pedestrian as well as vehicle traffic was halted at Tahrir Square, the main downtown plaza near parliament. The square was crowded with police officers and people silently listening to news from parliament on their radios. The noise of car horns that usually fills the square was absent.

Traffic was allowed to flow again after Mubarak left parliament.

Minister of Information Safwat el-Sherif, interviewed by state television outside parliament during the interruption, said Mubarak had been observing the Muslim fast for the holy month of Ramadan, which ends this weekend, despite a cold for which he was taking antibiotics.

The parliament opening had been postponed from Saturday because Mubarak was said to have been suffering a cold.

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