EU's Ashton visit ends, but Egypt crisis persists

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton speaks during a news conference with Egypt's interim Vice-President Mohamed ElBaradei (unseen) at El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo on July 30, 2013. Ms Ashton left Egypt on Tuesday after a m
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton speaks during a news conference with Egypt's interim Vice-President Mohamed ElBaradei (unseen) at El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo on July 30, 2013. Ms Ashton left Egypt on Tuesday after a mediation trip that included talks with the ousted president, but the country's crisis appeared no closer to a resolution. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

CAIRO (AFP) - EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton left Egypt on Tuesday after a mediation trip that included talks with the ousted president, but the country's crisis appeared no closer to a resolution.

She said Mohamed Mursi, who has not been seen in public since being deposed on July 3, was "well," but did not say where he was being held.

And neither the interim government nor Mr Mursi's supporters gave any indication that they had shifted their positions after her visit.

Mr Mursi loyalists continued to rally throughout the day, despite stern warnings from the military and National Defence Council and the deaths of 82 people at a protest on Saturday.

They had announced a million-man march but instead held a series of smaller rallies that passed off peacefully.

"Mursi is well," Ms Ashton told reporters on Tuesday morning, after two hours of talks with the ousted leader.

"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 Mr Mursi's comments.

Mr Mursi 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.

Ms Ashton said meeting Mr Mursi was a condition of her trip to Egypt.

"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 him 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.

In Brussels, Ms Ashton's spokesman Michael Mann said the EU had a key role "because everybody is willing to talk to us".

On Sunday and Monday, Ms 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-Mursi coalition, which said that "no initiatives" to resolve the crisis had been discussed, adding that it remained committed to Mr Mursi'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.

Mr ElBaradei, speaking at a news conference with Ms Ashton after a second meeting with her on Tuesday, insisted Mr Mursi would play no role in Egypt's political process going forward.

"Mr Mursi 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.

Mr 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.

Ms Ashton said she would return to Egypt, without giving a date.

Mursi loyalists have rallied daily for his return to office and staged multiple small-scale marches from their key sit-in site by the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque on Tuesday.

Tensions have been running high since Saturday morning, when 82 people were killed at a pro-Morsi protest, including a police officer.

The incident was the bloodiest since Morsi's ouster, a period in which more than 250 people have died.

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

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel called Gen Sisi on Tuesday, urging "restraint by Egyptian security forces in dealing with ongoing protests," the Pentagon said.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had earlier also called for "dialogue and for the release of president Mursi".

The violence has also sparked domestic criticism from human rights groups.

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, where five members of the security forces - two soldiers and three policemen - have been killed in separate shootings in the past 36 hours.