International envoys meet minister in Cairo to ease Egypt crisis

CAIRO (REUTERS) - Senior US and European envoys met the foreign minister of Egypt's army-installed government on Saturday in a push to resolve the political crisis brought on by the overthrow of President Mohamed Mursi and to head off more bloodshed.

At the same time, the new government promised Mr Mursi's supporters a safe exit from their protest camps and urged them to rejoin the political process.

The international mediation effort stepped up pace a month to the day that the Islamist Mursi, Egypt's first freely elected president, was ousted in the face of huge street demonstrations.

Since then, thousands of supporters of his Muslim Brotherhood have gathered in two camps in Cairo to demand his reinstatement, providing a challenge to the interim government as it tries to move forward with its own transition plan.

Almost 300 people have been killed in political violence in the past month, including 80 protesters shot by security forces in clashes on July 27. Mr Mursi is in custody at a secret location.

Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy held talks with US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, US Ambassador Anne Patterson and European Union special envoy Bernardino Leon for almost an hour on Saturday morning, the official Mena news agency said.

An Egyptian Foreign Ministry statement said Mr Fahmy reiterated the interim government's commitment to a transition "road map" leading to new elections. It also wanted to achieve a national reconciliation including all political forces "as long as they refrain from all forms of violence and incitement to it".

It stressed that although foreign envoys were welcome, any decisions were the perogative of the Egyptian government.

The envoys, it said, spoke of the need to end violence, reconcile the country and relaunch an inclusive political process.

In line with that, Interior Ministry spokesman, General Hany Abdel Latif, appeared on television and promised Mursi supporters a safe exit from their protest camps. He said they were being manipulated by the Muslim Brotherhood's leaders.

"Your continued sit-ins have no legal or political use. You have a safe exit, you will be politically integrated," said Gen Latif, wearing a white dress uniform.

The military had earlier threatened to remove them by force.

But on Friday, following appeals from religious leaders as well as foreign governments to avoid a bloodbath, the interim government said it would blockade the camps but not storm them.

"If you think you're upholding the Muslim Brotherhood, your safe exit from the squares will allow the group to return to its role within the democratic political process," Gen Latif said.

But in less conciliatory comments, the general also said many people wanted to leave but they faced threats from the protest leaders. Anyone involved in crimes, including torture, killing and kidnapping, would face prosecution, he said.

"You are brainwashed, subject to psychological manipulation.

You are being used as a political bargaining chip. he said, directing his comments to the demonstrators.

The crisis in the Arab world's most populous country had posed a quandary for the United States and other Western governments, which had advocated democracy following the overthrow of strongman Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 but grew increasingly uncomfortable with Mr Mursi's Islamist leanings.

Many Egyptians shared that concern and frustration grew over Mr Mursi's failure to get to grips with social and economic problems.

The new government gained the United States' seal of approval on Thursday when US Secretary of State John Kerry said the army had been "restoring democracy" when it toppled Mr Mursi.

Under Mubarak, Egypt was a bulwark of US policy in the Middle East, not least because of its peace agreement with Israel. Mr Mursi's overthrow had jeopardised the US$1.3 billion (S$1.6 billion) annual military aid that Egypt receives fom Washington.

Analysts say civilian members of the new government are trying to promote a political solution to the crisis despite resistance from security services that want to crack down on the Brotherhood, encouraged by an outpouring of public anger at the movement.

The government has drawn up a transition plan envisaging parliamentary elections that will start in about six months. But the Brotherhood, decrying what it sees as a coup against a democratically elected leader, says it wants nothing to do with it.

The Brotherhood protests are threatening to rob the government of a semblance of normality it needs to revive an economy which is in deep crisis.

The authorities have also rounded up many other Brotherhood leaders accused of inciting violence, feeding international concern of a plan to uproot a group that was suppressed for decades until Mr Mubarak's overthrow.