Egypt’s ousted Morsi ‘well’: EU’s Ashton


CAIRO: EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met Egypt’s ousted president on Tuesday, saying he was “well,” but the country’s political crisis seemed no closer to resolution despite her efforts. Neither the interim government nor supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi showed any indication that they had shifted their positions after talks with Ashton, who left Cairo on Tuesday. And Morsi loyalists said they would continue their demonstrations throughout the day, despite stern warnings from the military and National Defence Council and the deaths of 82 people at a protest on Saturday.

Ashton became the first person to officially visit Morsi since his July 3 ouster, holding two hours of talks with him at an undisclosed location early Tuesday.

“Morsi is well,” she told reporters.

“He has access to information in terms of TV, newspapers, so we were able to talk about the situation and we were able to talk about the need to move forward.

“We had a friendly, open and very frank discussion,” she added, declining to characterise Morsi’s comments, or give details of where he is being held.

Morsi has not been seen in public since his ouster and is being held in custody on allegations related to his escape from prison during Egypt’s 2011 uprising.

On her last visit on July 17, Ashton unsuccessfully requested to meet the ousted president, and this time she made meeting him a condition of her trip.

“I said that I would not come unless I could see him and that was freely offered to me.”But she said her talks with Morsi and a string of government officials and opposition representatives were not intended to push the two sides to the table.

“We want to help facilitate the bringing together of ideas,” she said, adding that she was hoping to find “common ground.””I don’t come here to say somebody should do this, somebody should do that, this is your country,” she said.

On Sunday and Monday, Ashton met army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, interim president Adly Mansour and vice president Mohamed ElBaradei.

She also met representatives of the pro-Morsi coalition, which said that “no initiatives” to resolve the crisis had been discussed, adding that it remained committed to Morsi’s reinstatement.

“We are ready to talk to anybody, but we don’t see anything positive from the other side,” added Amr Darrag, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm.

ElBaradei, speaking at a news conference with Ashton after a second meeting with her Tuesday, insisted Morsi would play no role in Egypt’s political process going forward.

“Mr. Morsi failed but the Brotherhood continues very much to be part of the political process and we would like them to participate in the political process,” he said.

ElBaradei stressed that ending violence was his “immediate priority.””I have always believed that violence is not the way, that we have to try every possible way to remove or to end polarisation,” he said.

Morsi loyalists have rallied daily for his return to office and the Anti-Coup Alliance leading the protests called for major demonstrations on Tuesday.

It urged Egyptians “to go out into the streets and squares, to regain their freedom and dignity, that are being usurped by the bloody coup, and for the rights of the martyrs assassinated by its bullets”.

The calls raised fears of new bloodshed, particularly after warnings from the military and National Defence Council about the consequences if demonstrators overstepped their rights.

On Monday night, the emergency services revised their toll of those killed in Saturday’s violence to 82, including a police officer.

The incident was the bloodiest since Morsi’s ouster, a period in which more than 200 people have died.

The bloodshed and the persistent deadlock have prompted growing international concern.

“We condemn the violence… We call for dialogue and for the release of president Morsi,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters on Tuesday.

The violence has also sparked domestic criticism of the interim authorities with a group of Egyptian human rights groups calling on Monday for interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim to be sacked.

Egypt’s interim presidency has said it was “saddened” by the deaths, but called the protest area where they occurred a “terror-originating spot”.

Unrest continued in the Sinai Peninsula meanwhile, with two policemen and a conscript killed in three separate shootings overnight, a security source said.