Cairo (AP) - Egyptian pro-reform advocate and Nobel peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei is returning home Thursday to take part in the anti-government protests gripping his country.
A spokesman for the pro-reform leader, Abdul-Rahman Samir, said ElBaradei was expected to join protests planned for after Friday prayers across the country.
ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, has emerged as a prime challenger to President Hosni Mubarak's regime since he first returned home last year. He has created a wave of support from reformists, but insists he would not run in this year's presidential election unless restrictions on who is eligible to contest are lifted and far reaching political reforms are introduced.
ElBaradei's homecoming Thursday could provide a much needed figure for protesters to rally around as they continue to press for change, but there have been persistent questions about the depth of his commitment to bringing change.
ElBaradei, according to his detractors, spends too much time away from Egypt and may be lacking a thorough understanding of life in Egypt because of the decades he has lived abroad, first as an Egyptian diplomat and later with the United Nations.
The unrest of the past two days continued Thursday to take its toll on the country's economy.
Trading halted on the stock exchange after the market plunged 6.25 percent in 15 minutes on Thursday morning. The market also plunged by about six percent on Wednesday.
Social networking sites have called for a mass rally in the Egyptian capital for Friday, after two days of protests by tens of thousands of people have led to clashes with security forces, leaving at least six people dead and many more wounded. Nearly 900 people are known to have been detained so far.
The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest and best organized opposition group, has stated its support for the protests. In a statement posted on its website, the Brotherhood stressed the need for the protests to remain peaceful and avoided repeating the protesters' calls for an end to Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule.
Instead, the group called for new parliamentary elections under judicial supervision and the introduction of far reaching reforms.
This week's protests in Cairo and a string of cities across this Arab nation of some 80 million people were the biggest in years, posing a serious challenge to Mubarak's authoritarian rule at a time when many Egyptians are complaining of rising prices, unemployment and corruption.
Muslim-Christian tensions are deepening the crisis and Mubarak's failure to announce whether he would run in this year's election for another six-year term is adding to the uncertainty.
Mubarak, 82, has never appointed a deputy and is thought to be grooming his son Gamal to succeed him, a father-son succession that is widely opposed and, according to leaked U.S. memos, does not meet with the approval of the powerful military.
All of Egypt's four presidents since the end of the monarchy in the 1950s have come from the military.
Associated Press writer Tarek el-Tablawy contributed to this report.