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EU suspends military ties with Egypt but continues aid

The European Union agrees to suspend some military ties to Egypt but decides against freezing aid as it seeks to send a message to Egypt's army. Omar Karmi reports

German foreign affairs minister Guido Westerwelle and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, talk before the extraordinary EU meeting roundly condemned the bloodshed in Egypt.
German foreign affairs minister Guido Westerwelle and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, talk before the extraordinary EU meeting roundly condemned the bloodshed in Egypt.

LONDON // The European Union agreed yesterday to suspend some military ties to Egypt but decided against freezing aid as it sought to send a message to Egypt's army.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said that the EU's 28 members would suspend export licences to Egypt for equipment that could be used for internal repression.

But the council of European foreign ministers, while vowing to "monitor" the situation, also concluded that "assistance in the socio-economic sector and to civil society will continue".

The meeting of foreign ministers was hastily convened because of growing European concern for the mounting death toll in the past week as Egypt's military-installed government cracked down on protests against the removal of the Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, from power.

European nations are Egypt's biggest trading partner - trade between the EU and Egypt was worth nearly €24bn (Dh118bn) in 2011 - and EU member states last year pledged a combined €5bn in loans and aid to Egypt.

Calling Egypt a "crucial partner country", Ms Ashton said the situation in Egypt was of "great concern".

"We strongly condemn all acts of violence and we do believe that the actions of the security forces have been disproportionate. We are worried about the alarming number of people who have been killed," she said.

Ms Ashton also condemned "acts of terrorism", highlighting the killing of 25 off-duty policemen in the Sinai on Monday, as well as attacks on government and religious institutions, both mosques and churches.

Ms Ashton was closely involved in an unsuccessful international effort to resolve the stand-off between supporters of Mr Morsi and the country's new leadership and urged all sides to get back to negotiations.

"We call on all sides to stop the cycle of violence, to stop the provocations, to stop the hate speech."

Yesterday's decision to suspend some export licences came at an extraordinary meeting of the EU's foreign ministers in Brussels, who had been called back from their summer holidays to discuss the Egyptian crisis.

"Our appeal is - with maximum pressure - to contribute to their returning to the negotiating table," the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, said.

Mona Al Qazzaz, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman in the UK, said the EU measures did not go far enough.

"The international community has not formulated a real response," Ms Qazzaz said. "It's not enough to say you are not taking sides. By doing so, you are taking sides. You are taking the side of the military junta."

The EU move follows White House denials on Tuesday that the US had decided to suspend aid to the troubled country, reports that were widely circulated on Monday.

The US provided about US$1.5 billion (Dh5.5bn) in aid to Egypt, of which $1.3bn is in the form of military aid.

By contrast, the vast majority of the EU's aid promised to Egypt in November would go directly to infrastructure projects and was always tied to democratic reforms.

Direct budget support to the government was ended last year.

EU countries have questioned the wisdom of freezing development aid and said it would likely hurt only the poorest members of society.

The Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, had already said that while "we are clearly not sending taxpayers' money to people responsible for massacres", Sweden would not suspend grants to civil society activists.

Military ties between EU countries and Egypt take the form of bilateral agreements.

okarmi@thenational.ae

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