x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

EU's Catherine Ashton meets ousted Egypt president Morsi

The European Union's top diplomat held a two-hour meeting with ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, in his first meeting with an outsider since he was ousted by the military.

CAIRO // The European Union's top diplomat held a two-hour meeting with ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the EU said today, in the Islamist leader's first meeting with an outsider since the military deposed him nearly a month ago.

Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, met with Mr Morsi last night, according to a statement posted on Twitter by Ms Ashton's spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic. She did not say where the meeting took place, and provided no details on the discussions.

Since the July 3 coup, which followed days of mass protests by millions of Egyptians calling for Mr Morsi's ouster, the former president had been held incommunicado by the military in an undisclosed location. A group of Egyptian rights activists were taken by the military to Mr Morsi's place of detention this week but he refused to see them.

Prosecutors on Friday said Morsi was facing accusations of conspiring with the militant Palestinian Hamas group to escape from prison during the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Ashton is in Egypt on her second visit this month to search for a way out of Egypt's increasingly bloody and complex crisis, looking for compromises in talks with the military-backed government and allies of the ousted president.

Ahead of her visit, Ashton deplored the violence over the weekend that killed 83 protesters and appealed for a political process that includes all groups, including Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.

But there were no signs that either side of the conflict was willing to heed her calls. The Brotherhood rejected appeals to work with the new leaders and called for fresh demonstrations today. The government made no conciliatory gestures.

Ms Ashton's visit and telephone calls by US Secretary of State John Kerry to her and to Egyptian leaders underscored the sense of urgency in the international community, whose leaders are pushing for an inclusive political process that puts an end to violence.

"I think we've been very clear that we believe an inclusive process means the participation of all parties. And certainly the detainment of many members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Mr. Morsi, makes it difficult to move forward with that," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in Washington on Monday.

The Brotherhood and its allies insist that Morsi must be reinstated, but the military-backed government is pushing ahead with a transition plan that provides for parliamentary and presidential elections early next year.

After their talks with Ashton, a delegation of Islamist politicians representing the pro-Morsi camp said the military-backed government must take the first step toward any reconciliation by releasing jailed Brotherhood leaders, ending the crackdown on their protests and stopping media campaigns against Islamists.

"Creating the atmosphere requires those in authority now to send messages of reassurance," Mohammed Mahsoub, of the Islamist Wasat Party, told reporters.

Speaking alongside a Brotherhood official and another Islamist politician, Mahsoub appeared to be sticking by the demand to reinstate Morsi by saying any solution must be on a "constitutional basis."

But a spokesman for military-backed interim President Adly Mansour suggested Monday that there would be no deviation from the transition plan. When asked about reconciliation initiatives on the table, Ahmed Al Muslemani said: "The ship has sailed and we have no way but to go forward."