EU's Ashton to push for reconciliation on Egypt trip

Reuters

CAIRO (Reuters) - European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton will encourage Egypt's army-backed government and the Muslim Brotherhood to pursue reconciliation during talks this week, a European diplomatic source said.

Egypt has been gripped by political turmoil since the army ousted elected President Mohamed Mursi of the Brotherhood in July after mass protests against his rule.

"She (Ashton) is coming to explore the possibilities for a return to a transition in which all sides can participate," the European diplomat said in Cairo.

"Things are still not completely black and white, although the situation is extremely difficult and reconciliation is becoming a difficult word in Egypt."

Getting the army-backed government and the Brotherhood to compromise may be an impossible mission for Ashton, who failed on a previous visit, as did several Western envoys, to persuade the military to avoid using force against Mursi's supporters.

Security forces crushed pro-Mursi protest camps on August 14, killing hundreds of people, and have since been cracking down hard on the group.

The Brotherhood's leaders were arrested in a bid to decapitate the movement, which won every election since a revolt toppled veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

A court has now banned the group and ordered its assets frozen.

Ashton will meet government leaders and army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled Mursi, as well as the few Brotherhood politicians who are not in jail.

The army has promised that a political roadmap will deliver fair elections. But the Muslim Brotherhood refused to take part in the transition, saying that would legitimise what it calls a military coup against an elected president.

Ashton is expected to explore whether there is still room for an initiative Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa el-Din, a liberal, put to the cabinet in August, and whether the constitution can be amended in an inclusive way.

The proposal called for an immediate end to the state of emergency, political participation for all parties and guarantees of human rights, including the right to free assembly.

"This is one of the possibilities that should be explored," the diplomat said.

Ashton wanted to see where each of the key players stand and what could be put on the table and report back to EU foreign ministers to see what steps the EU could take.

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