EU envoy given access to deposed Egypt leader Mursi

Egypt's interim President Adli Mansour (right) meets with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton at El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo on July 29, 2013. Egypt's rulers have allowed the EU envoy to meet Mohamed Mursi, the first time an outsider
Egypt's interim President Adli Mansour (right) meets with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton at El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo on July 29, 2013. Egypt's rulers have allowed the EU envoy to meet Mohamed Mursi, the first time an outsider is known to have had access to the deposed president since the military overthrew him and jailed him a month ago. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

CAIRO (REUTERS) - Egypt's rulers have allowed an EU envoy to meet Mohamed Mursi, the first time an outsider is known to have had access to the deposed president since the military overthrew him and jailed him a month ago.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton held two hours of "in depth" discussions with Mr Mursi late on Monday, her spokesman Maja Kocijancic said on Twitter. Ms Kocijancic did not say where the talks had taken place.

Mr Mursi has been held incommunicado since the military removed him from power on July 3. Egypt's authorities say he is being investigated for charges including murder, stemming from a 2011 jailbreak when he escaped detention during protests against former autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Ms Ashton, Europe's top diplomat, has been shuttling between Egypt's rulers and the Muslim Brotherhood to try to pull the country back from more bloodshed as one of the only outsiders that is accepted by both sides as a potential mediator.

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

Foreign countries are urging the military-backed rulers to reach compromise with Mr Mursi's Brotherhood to bring the country back from the brink of further bloodshed. Eighty Brotherhood supporters were gunned down on Saturday.

The government has ordered the Brotherhood to abandon a vigil it has maintained with thousands of supporters camping out to demand Mr Mursi's return. The Brotherhood says it will not leave the streets unless Mr Mursi is restored.

"It's very simple, we are not going anywhere," said Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad. "We are going to increase the protest." Raising the prospect of more bloodshed, the Brotherhood has said it would hold marches again on Tuesday.

The violence has raised global anxiety that the army may try to crush the Brotherhood, a movement which emerged from decades in the shadows to win power in elections after Egypt's 2011 Arab Spring uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

The White House, treading a fine line with a pivotal Arab ally that it funds with US$1.3 billion (S$1.65 billion) a year in military aid, said on Monday that it "strongly condemns" Saturday's bloodshed, and urged respect for the right to peaceful protest.

"Violence not only further sets back the process of reconciliation and democratisation in Egypt, but it will negatively impact regional stability," spokesman Josh Earnest said.

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

Ms 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".