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EU fights to get envoy Ashton into Egypt

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has been trying to meet Egypt's Foreign Minister in Cairo but he refused because of "a full agenda"

AFP , Thursday 10 Feb 2011
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European Union officials fought Thursday to try and persuade Egypt to authorise a visit next week from much-criticised foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton.

"We are still working in order that Mrs Ashton gets into Egypt next week," her spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told journalists after it emerged on Wednesday that President Hosni Mubarak's administration had refused her entry.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said he "would prefer not to have any foreign visitor in February" because of a full agenda, a senior EU official revealed then.

A refusal to allow Ashton to visit would amount to rejecting "the EU as a whole," the official insisted.

"What is important for us is that Mrs Ashton has the mandate from the European Council," said Kocijancic, referring to the 27 heads of state and government who ordered her at a summit on Friday to deliver the EU's demands during Egypt's democratic transition.

Ashton has said she will visit Tunisia on Monday, a month on from the toppling of its authoritarian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and wanted to go from there to Egypt as well as other countries in the region.

While preparations for Tunis are "well on track," Kocijancic said, for Egypt, they are "ongoing... we are working on all levels for this visit to happen."

While recognising agreement was required from the Egyptian authorities, she said the EU would announce on Friday Ashton's programme.

The EU foreign policy chief wants to meet Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, the veteran intelligence chief appointed by Mubarak in a bid to appease the protests.

She also hoped to meet all political actors involved in dialogue with the authorities, including the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

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