Fri, Jul 19, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Ashton urges Morsi release, amid protests

AFP, CAIRO

Visiting EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton on Wednesday urged Egypt’s interim leaders to free former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, as supporters of the ousted president rallied against the new government.

Speaking in Amman, US Secretary of State John Kerry said it was “much too early” to judge the future course of the Arab world’s most populous nation and key Washington ally.

The 34-member caretaker Cabinet, sworn in on Tuesday and headed by former finance minister Hazem al-Beblawi, was comprised of “extremely competent people,” Kerry said.

The new administration faces a raft of challenges, including restoring security and overcoming deep divisions illustrated by Wednesday’s pro-Morsi protests in central Cairo.

Several thousand people gathered near the Cabinet headquarters, shouting anti-government slogans.

They marched peacefully in the direction of Cairo University, across the Nile, carrying banners that read: “Retaliation for the martyrs” and “Down with military rule.”

Ashton held talks with Egypt’s new leaders, members of the grassroots anti-Morsi movement Tamarod and officials from the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

The EU’s top diplomat was not able to meet Morsi himself. He has been held in custody since the military overthrew him on July 3 after massive nationwide protests against his rule.

“I believe he should be released. I was assured he is well. I would have liked to see him,” Ashton said.

US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who visited Cairo on Monday and Tuesday, did not meet Brotherhood representatives and was snubbed by Tamarod.

Senior FJP official Amr Darrag spoke about Wednesday’s meeting with Ashton.

“The delegation didn’t come to ask the EU anything, the meeting took place at Ashton’s request,” she said.

Ashton told Egypt’s interim leaders that the EU wanted “a quick return to the democratic process, and a full, inclusive process,” her spokesman Michael Mann said. She also stressed “the need to get the economy going as quickly as possible” in a country where a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line.

In Jordan, Kerry made much the same point.

“Very clearly, order needs to be restored, stability needs to be restored, rights need to be protected ... and the country needs to be able to return to normal business,” he said.

Washington has pointedly refrained from saying Morsi was the victim of a coup, which would legally require a freeze on aid.

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