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Dhaka Tribune

Egypt sides defiant as EU envoy seeks compromise

Update : 30 Jul 2013, 09:30 AM

Europe's top diplomat shuttled between Egypt's rulers and the Muslim Brotherhood on Monday in a mission to pull the country back from more bloodshed, but both sides were unyielding after 80 Islamist supporters were gunned down.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, making her second visit in 12 days as one of the few outsiders able to speak to both sides, made no public comment. Supporters and opponents of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi left no doubt about the depth of polarisation in the Arab world's most populous nation.

"It's very simple, we are not going anywhere," said Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad, making clear the movement intends to defy government orders to abandon a protest vigil by thousands of followers demanding Morsi's return.

"We are going to increase the protest," he told Reuters. "Someone has to put sense into this leadership."

Raising the prospect of more bloodshed erupting during Ashton's visit, the Brotherhood said it would march again on Monday evening from its month-old vigil at a mosque in northern Cairo towards offices of the Interior Ministry.

Several hundred Morsi supporters made good on the promise, marching towards a state security building in Cairo late at night. They chanted "down with military rule" and obstructed traffic on a main road near their protest camp.

Backers of the military that deposed Morsi on July 3 were equally unbending, despite Saturday's dawn carnage when security forces shot dead at least 80 Brotherhood supporters after a day of rival mass rallies.

"We asked her (Ashton), would you accept an armed sit-in under your roof?" said Mahmoud Badr, a leader of the Tamarud youth movement that mobilised huge protests against Morsi before the army moved against him.

"What if al-Qaeda had a sit-in in a European country? Would you leave it be?" he asked reporters after meeting Ashton, echoing the army's branding of its opponents as terrorists.

Ashton met General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the army and the man behind the overthrow of Egypt's first freely-elected president. She also held talks with members of the interim government installed by the army, and representatives of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood's political wing.

Thousands of Brotherhood supporters have been camped out for a month at Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, demanding Morsi's reinstatement and defying threats by the army-backed authorities to remove them.

Ashton was expected to speak to reporters on Tuesday. Before arriving, she said she would press for a "fully inclusive transition process, taking in all political groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood."

Her leverage is limited. The United States is Egypt's chief Western backer and source of military hardware, though the EU is the biggest civilian aid donor to the country, a strategic bridge between the Middle East and North Africa.

The EU has attempted to mediate in the political crisis over the past six months as Egyptians have grown increasingly suspicious of US involvement. President Barack Obama delayed delivery last week of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, in a gesture of displeasure at the turn of events.

Saturday's bloodshed was the worst since July 8, when security forces killed more than 50 Brotherhood supporters outside a Cairo barracks. The army said its forces had fired back after being attacked; the Brotherhood said its supporters were praying.

The interim cabinet has vowed to clear the Brotherhood's mosque vigil after complaints from residents about the huge encampment on their doorstep. The Islamists vowed to keep marching.

"The danger we face because of the political situation and the coup is greater than the violence we face in marches," said Brotherhood member Islam Tawfiq, 26.

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