Kerry arrives in Egypt

2013-03-02 20:24
Cairo - US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo on Saturday to push for a way out of Egypt's political impasse and its crippling economic crisis.

As Kerry landed in Cairo from Turkey, protesters torched a police station in the canal city of Port Said, reflecting the size of the task facing the secretary of state in Egypt which has been rocked by months of unrest.

The interior ministry said in a statement about 500 protesters threw stones and petrol bombs at the police station, setting it on fire, and then blocked fire engines from approaching the blaze.

In the capital, Kerry, is due to hold talks with Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, as well as political parties, business leaders and civil society groups during his two-day visit which is part of a world tour.

"He is working to touch base with the government, with the military, with people involved in the new Egypt: the political leaders, NGO leaders, the business people," a US State Department official said.

Dozens dead in clashes

Egypt has been deeply divided since Morsi - the country's first post-revolution president - issued a now-repealed decree in November expanding his powers and paving the way for the adoption of an Islamist-drafted constitution.

The political turmoil has fuelled weeks of unrest and clashes that have left dozens dead.

Two leading dissidents, Mohamed ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahi of the opposition coalition National Salvation Front (NSF), said they would not be meeting with Kerry, after Washington's call for them to reconsider a boycott of next month's parliamentary elections.

During the visit, Kerry will stress the "importance of building consensus," a US State Department official said.

Kerry "will not tell them what to do" but will underscore that "the only way to be heard is to participate in the elections," the official told reporters.

He will emphasise that "if they want to engage, if they want to ensure that their views are taken into account, the only way to do that is to participate.

"They can't sit aside and just assume that somehow by magic all of this is going to happen. They have got to participate," the official added.

$4.8bn loan

A political consensus would pave the way for a crucial loan from the International Monetary Fund, which in turn will unlock several pledges of aid for Egypt's battered economy.

Egyptian officials have said they will continue talks with the IMF on a much needed $4.8bn loan, which has been delayed amid political unrest and might possibly be signed after a parliament is in place in July.

"It will be important for the government to make an agreement with the IMF not only to bring in the IMF money... but also to unlock the other money that comes from the US, the EU, from the Arab states and from private investments," the State Department official said.

"It requires an IMF deal."

In order for there to be an agreement "there has to be basic political agreement among all the various players in Egypt" as well as "basic economic consensus on reforms to support the IMF deal."

Morsi has called for staggered parliamentary elections to start on April 22, but the NSF - which groups mainly liberal and leftist parties and groups - said it would boycott the polls, expressing doubts over their transparency.

The opposition, less organised than the Muslim Brotherhood, insists the president appoint a new government before the election. The presidency says the new parliament should have the right to appoint the cabinet.

The country has been gripped by nationwide unrest in recent months, with protesters taking to the streets to denounce Morsi for failing to address political and economic concerns.
Read more on:    mohamed morsi  |  john kerry  |  egypt  |  north africa

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