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Monia Mazigh, the Ottawa woman who spent more than a year tirelessly campaigning to win her husband's freedom from a Syrian prison, plans to run for the New Democrats.

Ms. Mazigh, 34, said Wednesday that it was "a very difficult decision" to seek the Ottawa South nomination because she's busy with two young children.

But after what happened to her husband, Maher Arar, Ms. Mazigh said she felt she had to enter public life.

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"I didn't choose to be a public figure, but when (the imprisonment) happened and when I came to be known, I think it is one of my personal duties, as a Canadian, to do something to help people around me," Mazigh said as NDP Leader Jack Layton looked on.

"It is a good opportunity to take . . . what I have learned and my experience to help people."

Even though she has no political experience, Ms. Mazigh would be a marquee candidate for the party. Her battle for her husband's freedom won her widespread public sympathy and admiration.

Her husband's arrest in the United States, subsequent deportation to Syria and imprisonment there will be the subject of a public inquiry this year.

Mr. Arar, an engineer, was detained Sept. 26, 2002, on suspicion of terrorist links as he passed through JFK International Airport in New York on his way home from a vacation in Tunisia.

The dual citizen was deported Oct. 8, 2002, flown to Jordan and driven to Syria, where he spent months of solitary confinement in a small cell, and, he says, was tortured.

He was released last fall following an intense campaign by his wife and human rights groups, and pressure by the Canadian government.

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Mr. Layton said Ms. Mazigh brings to the NDP "a wisdom that is really quite extraordinary."

"I think she's captured the imagination of Canadians in an important way."

Her husband supports her bid for office but wasn't at her news conference, said Ms. Mazigh, "because someone has to take care of my (children.)''

Ms. Mazigh, who earned a doctorate in finance from McGill University in Montreal, faces one opponent in the April 13 NDP nomination vote.

She said she had been wooed by Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal party as well by Mr. Layton but has previously voted NDP and feels closer to that party.

"When I came here to Canada . . . it was my brother who told me the best party in Canada was the New Democratic Party" said Ms. Mazigh, who emigrated from Tunisia in 1991, first to Montreal before settling in Ottawa in 1997.

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She is the second high-profile catch landed by the NDP in the Ottawa area. Former leader Ed Broadbent recently returned to politics to take a run in Ottawa Centre.

Ms. Mazigh has said her husband's ordeal would influence her work if she were elected. But her interests range beyond the Middle East and prisoners rights to issues involving families, education, health and the elderly.

She doesn't live in the Ottawa South riding, which is currently represented by former deputy prime minister John Manley. He announced several months ago he wouldn't run again after dropping out of the Liberal leadership race.

She acknowledged she didn't want to run in her home riding against the Liberal incumbent in Ottawa West, Marlene Catterall, who helped Ms. Mazigh fight for Mr. Arar's release.

If Ms. Mazigh wins the NDP candidacy, she would face Liberal candidate David McGuinty, brother of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

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