CAIRO // The European Union's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, yesterday called for the release of former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi who is being detained by Egyptian military.
Her comments came after she met senior Muslim Brotherhood officials, who were making their first major attempt to bring international pressure to bear on the country's generals.
Since overthrowing Mr Morsi's Brotherhood-dominated government on July 3, the army has jailed him and many of the group's top members.
"I believe he should be released. I was assured he is well. I would have liked to see him," Ms Ashton said.
Ms Ashton held a 45-minute meeting with Amr Darrag, head of foreign affairs for the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, and other Brotherhood leaders, as well as Mr Morsi's prime minister, Hisham Qandil.
Asked whether he was disappointed that the EU had offered no resolution to the political crisis, Mr Darrag said: "We are not expecting support from anybody. We are relying only on ourselves."
Before arriving in Cairo, Ms Ashton said: "I am going to Egypt to reinforce our message that there must be a fully inclusive political process, taking in all groups which support democracy.
Ahead of Ms Ashton's visit, several thousand Morsi supporters protested outside cabinet headquarters as the new government, which the Brotherhood refused to join, prepared for its first day in office.
Coming after forceful calls from the United States and Germany for the release of Mr Morsi, who was removed from the presidency more than two weeks ago by a military-led coup, Ms Ashton's statement added to the pressure on the interim government to either charge Mr Morsi and other Brotherhood members being held or release them.
The Muslim Brotherhood had said it welcomed the meeting with Ms Ahton after not being invited to meet William Burns, the US deputy secretary of state, who visited Egypt on Sunday.
Brotherhood supporters have also criticised what they say is the US government's refusal to support Egypt's legitimate elected leader. A large group attempted to march on the US Embassy but were stopped by police.
Saad Al Husseiny, a Brotherhood member, told the Masry Al Youm newspaper that they were communicating a message to the US president, Barack Obama, that "he took part in destroying democracy through his approval of the coup".
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said yesterday that his country would take its time in deciding whether a coup toppled Mr Morsi.
"On the issue of a coup, this is obviously an extremely complex and very difficult situation," Mr Kerry said in Amman.
"What complicates it, obviously, is that you had [an] extraordinary situation in Egypt of life and death, of the potential of civil war and enormous violence, and you now have a constitutional process proceeding forward very rapidly."
Pro-Morsi protesters chanted "No to treason" and "No to the military coup" yesterday as they made their way to the sit-ins near Cairo University and Rabaa Adaweya mosque.
The demonstrations by the Brotherhood are proving a major challenge for the interim government, which was sworn in on Tuesday without a single Islamist member.
The interim president, Adly Mansour, formerly the head judge of the supreme constitutional court, had said that no group would be excluded from the government and that he had invited the Brotherhood to take part in a national reconciliation initiative. The Brotherhood refused, saying that participation in the new government was impossible because it would mean it was approving the coup that swept Mr Morsi from power. Mr El Haddad, the Brotherhood spokesman, said the group would never negotiate with an "illegitimate president".
The new cabinet, composed primarily of leftists, liberals and technocrats, stands in stark contrast to Mr Morsi's government. The interim prime minister, Hazem El Beblawi, a former finance minister, has appointed well-known economists and public figures in key ministries.
Mr Morsi was unable to convince many officials to join his government due to polarisation caused by decisions he made in his year as president. He instead brought trusted Brotherhood officials and sympathetic university professors into key positions.