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EU's Ashton in town with initiative for Egypt conflict resolution

Ashton expresses concern over 'bloody images coming out of Cairo' in preliminary exchanges with Vice President for Foreign Affairs Mohamed ElBaradei

Dina Ezzat , Sunday 28 Jul 2013
Ashton
File photo: European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton (Photo: Reuters)
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European Union foreign policy high representative Catherine Ashton is expected in Egypt on Sunday evening for a political crisis mediation.

Ashton, who was last in Egypt on 16 July, is returning to follow-up on talks with Vice President for Foreign Affairs Mohamed ElBaradei in the wake of the killing of at least 80 civilians, most of them believed to be Muslim Brotherhood members, early Saturday as they attempted to extend a sit-in in North Cairo.

Ashton has publicly expressed concern over the large-scale killings, which was the second witnessed by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi in under a month.

In her talks with ElBaradei, with whom she is meeting on Monday morning, Ashton demanded "an end to the bloodshed," saying there was "a big concern in the European Union over the bloody images coming out of Cairo," a European diplomatic source told Ahram Online.

Egyptian official sources say they have received clear messages of concern from Europe and the US over Saturday's dawn killings.  The same sources say that the military has ordered the police to suspend plans to disperse the Brotherhood's main sit-ins in Cairo and Giza "pending a possible negotiation."

Recent mediation attempts have been unsuccessful, largely due to the Brotherhood's insistence that Morsi be re-instated as president "if only for a day" as a pre-condition to negotiations.  Egyptian authorities, including the army and the interim president, have rejected this option as "firmly opposed to an overwhelming public will."

As Ashton begins meetings with ElBaradei on Monday, she will push an initiative that would allow Brotherhood leaders to end the sit-in in exchange for certain concessions, such as the dropping of legal charges and the release of top figures from detention.

"We are still at the very early phases...there is the Ashton initiative and there are other ideas circulating over the past 48  hours, but we will see," a government source said.

Meanwhile, informed sources tell Ahram Online that Ashton has been promised an opportunity to meet with the former president, which she was prevented from doing during her previous visit. "Following the scenes of bloodshed that came out on Saturday, we have to show flexibility because otherwise we might be harming our image," one official said.

On Saturday, the former president declined to meet with a human rights delegation, who met instead with one of Morsi's aides under house arrest.  While the presidency has denied meetings took place between Morsi and the former secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, a government source told Ahram Online that a meeting did occur. "We cannot allow for speculations regarding Morsi's fate," the government source added.

In Cairo, Ashton is expected to meet with opposition, Muslim Brotherhood, and military leaders.  She may also meet with Egypt's army chief Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

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