By Ben Sheppard
NEW DELHI — Egyptian presidential contender Mohamed ElBaradei said on Friday that the "miracle" of his country's revolution must be cemented by a rejection of changes being offered by the army in a referendum.
Egyptians will vote Saturday on the military's plans for the future after Hosni Mubarak's fall, with pro-democracy activists campaigning for a "no" result as they say the proposals will only lead to further authoritarian rule.
ElBaradei, speaking at a conference in New Delhi, said the referendum on changes to the constitution dealt only with "minutiae".
"It doesn't talk about the imperial power of the president, it doesn't talk about the distortion of the parliament, it doesn't talk about the need to have an independent constituent assembly that represents everybody," he said.
"So we are going to say no tomorrow. Most of the people who triggered the revolution are going to say no. I take a flight tonight to cast my vote to make sure that this will not happen."
ElBaradei, on his first trip out of Egypt since the uprising that forced Mubarak to quit as president on February 11, described how he believed his countrymen had been transformed.
"The revolution was like divine intervention," he told the India Today Conclave. "Nobody expected it but in hindsight it was not a surprise at all. It was like a pressure-cooker going on and on for years.
"After Mubarak was out and the regime toppled, you saw different Egyptians who are confident, proud, happy and with a sense of dignity."
ElBaradei, a former UN nuclear watchdog chief who won the Nobel peace prize in 2005, is lobbying for a longer period of transition to democracy than that scheduled by the military.
He said he feared the rush to elections would halt reform and leave out millions of Egyptians.
"Either we are going to have a clean slate or we are going to beautify the old regime," he said.
ElBaradei, a leading candidate to be the next president, stressed that the future of Egypt was still in the balance.
"The revolution was absolutely a miracle but it was the easy part," he said. "The difficult part is to ensure this energy is channelled in the proper way and that we go through a transition that will lead us to a true democracy, not a sham democracy."
Activists on Friday gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where 18 days of huge demonstrations forced Mubarak from power, to urge a "no" vote in the referendum.
Only the powerful Muslim Brotherhood -- outlawed but generally tolerated under Mubarak -- and elements of his National Democratic Party have called for a "yes" vote.
ElBaradei warned a "yes" result would mean a parliament "composed mainly of members of the National Democratic Party and benefiting businessmen."
The military itself has kept out of the fray, urging all sides to have their voices heard and turn out to vote.
There have been no opinion polls, and assessments of the likely outcome have been divided.
ElBaradei added that Mubarak would still be in power without the effect of websites such as Facebook, saying that "the revolution is the brainchild of the Internet."
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