EU's Ashton visits Egypt, calls for return to civilian rule

Egypt's interim vice-president Mohamed ElBaradei (right) meets with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (left) in Cairo July 17, 2013. EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton called again on Sunday for a return to civilian rule in E
Egypt's interim vice-president Mohamed ElBaradei (right) meets with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (left) in Cairo July 17, 2013. EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton called again on Sunday for a return to civilian rule in Egypt as she flew into Cairo for talks after deadly clashes between protestors and police. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

CAIRO, Qahirah (AFP) - EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton called again on Sunday for a return to civilian rule in Egypt as she flew into Cairo for talks after deadly clashes between protestors and police.

Ms Ashton said she wanted to speak to all sides after at least 72 people died on Saturday at a protest in support of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Mursi.

Protesters have accused security forces of firing live rounds at unarmed civilians, a charge denied by the goverment.

The European Union wanted "to reinforce our message that there must be a fully inclusive transition process, taking in all political groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood," Ms Ashton said in a statement.

"This process must lead - as soon as possible - to constitutional order, free and fair elections and a civilian-led government," she said.

"I will also repeat my call to end all violence. I deeply deplore the loss of life." Ms Ashton said she was returning to Egypt, after repeated calls for a peaceful transition and a visit earlier this month, in response to requests from "key stakeholders", although she did not identify them.

Earlier on Sunday, the authorities in Cairo said Ms Ashton would meet president Adly Mansour, vice-president for international affairs Mohamed ElBaradei and other officials.

Ms Ashton said she would also meet Defence Minister General Abd Al Fattah Al Sisi and would hold talks with other groups.

They would include representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and representatives of civil society.

Egyptian state news agency MENA, citing a diplomatic source, said Ms Ashton would meet representatives of Mr Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood as well as the Tamarod organisation that organised protests against Morsi.

Ms Ashton was last in Cairo on July 17, when she called for the release of Mr Mursi, who has been remanded in custody and accused of crimes related to his escape from prison during Egypt's 2011 uprising.

She said then that she regretted being unable to meet the Islamist leader, who was ousted on July 3 by the military after massive protests against his rule.