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EU envoy Catherine Ashton meets ousted Egypt leader Mohamed Mursi

AFRICA
By - BBC | July 30th 2013

Egypt's rulers have allowed an EU envoy to meet Mohamed Mursi, the first time an outsider is known to have had access to the deposed president since the military overthrew him and jailed him a month ago.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton held two hours of "in depth" discussions with Mursi late on Monday, her spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said on Twitter. Kocijancic did not say where the talks had taken place.

Mursi has been held incommunicado since the military removed him from power on July 3. Egypt's authorities say he is being investigated for charges including murder, stemming from a 2011 jailbreak when he escaped detention during protests against former autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Ashton, Europe's top diplomat, has been shuttling between Egypt's rulers and the Muslim Brotherhood to try to pull the country back from more bloodshed as one of the only outsiders that is accepted by both sides as a potential mediator.

Foreign countries are urging the military-backed rulers to reach compromise with Mursi's Brotherhood to bring the country back from the brink of further bloodshed. Eighty Brotherhood supporters were gunned down on Saturday.

The government has ordered the Brotherhood to abandon a vigil it has maintained with thousands of supporters camping out to demand Mursi's return. The Brotherhood says it will not leave the streets unless Mursi is restored.

"It's very simple, we are not going anywhere," said Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad. "We are going to increase the protest."

Raising the prospect of more bloodshed, the Brotherhood has said it would hold marches again on Tuesday.

The violence has raised global anxiety that the army may try to crush the Brotherhood, a movement which emerged from decades in the shadows to win power in elections after Egypt's 2011 Arab Spring uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

The White House, treading a fine line with a pivotal Arab ally that it funds with $1.3 billion a year in military aid, said on Monday it "strongly condemns" Saturday's bloodshed, and urged respect for the right to peaceful protest.

"Violence not only further sets back the process of reconciliation and democratization in Egypt, but it will negatively impact regional stability," spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Ashton met General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the army and the man who overthrew Egypt's first freely-elected president. She also held talks with members of the interim government installed by the army, and with representatives of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood's political wing.

Thousands of Brotherhood supporters have been camped out for a month at Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, demanding Mursi's reinstatement and defying threats by the army-backed authorities to remove them.

Ashton was expected to speak to reporters on Tuesday. Before arriving, she said she would press for a "fully inclusive transition process, taking in all political groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood".

Ashton attempted to serve as a mediator earlier this year and is seen by both sides as an important neutral voice in a country where Washington is looked upon with suspicion.

- BBC

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