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US envoy presses Egypt leaders before rival demos

July 15, 2013 7:59 P.M. (Updated: July 16, 2013 5:17 P.M.)
CAIRO (AFP) -- A top US official pressed Egypt's interim leaders on Monday for a return to elected government after the army ousted President Mohamed Mursi, whose supporters and opponents readied rival rallies.

Under Secretary of State Bill Burns held talks in Cairo with army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, military-appointed president Adly Mansour and caretaker prime minister Hazem al-Beblawi.

Burns is the first senior US official to visit Egypt since the military toppled Mursi, the country's first freely elected president, in a popularly backed coup on July 3.

Egypt's new leaders are pushing ahead with a transition plan for an interim government and fresh elections, but Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood defiantly insists on his reinstatement.

Burns' two-day visit came as the authorities tightened the screws on Mursi's backers, freezing the assets of 14 top Islamists, and with Egypt rocked by a wave of deadly attacks, notably in the Sinai Peninsula.

Three factory workers were killed when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the bus they were traveling in the restive peninsula, medics said.

Coptic Christians have also been killed in the Sinai, including a priest, as part of a string of sectarian violence around the country since the Islamist president's overthrow, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

The non-governmental organization called on the authorities to "end inflammatory campaigns targeting citizens on the basis of religion".

In Paris, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned against "revenge" and "retribution," and denounced the arrests of Brotherhood officials.

In his talks with Egypt's interim military and civilian leaders, the US envoy was to push for "an end to all violence and a transition leading to an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government," the State Department said.

International concern is mounting over the fate of Mursi, who has been in custody since the coup and was quizzed by prosecutors on Sunday over complaints of possible criminal offenses.

Washington has refrained from saying was the victim of a coup, which would legally require a freeze on some $1.5 billion in desperately needed US military and economic assistance to Cairo.

On Sunday, two influential US Republican senators, Lindsey Graham and John McCain, urged the administration to cut the aid in response to the coup.

Meanwhile, Egypt's military-appointed leadership has been trying to install a new cabinet that would oversee the transition to parliamentary and presidential elections.

Beblawi is expected to unveil his full cabinet on Tuesday or Wednesday.

His priorities include restoring security and preparing for the elections, which the interim president has said could be held by early next year.

The assets freeze against nine senior Brotherhood figures is part of an investigation ordered by chief prosecutor Hisham Barakat.

Those targeted include its supreme leader Mohamed Badie.

Also hit are five Islamists from other groups, including ex-militant faction Gamaa Islamiya, which carried out a deadly 1997 attack on tourists in Luxor, judicial sources said.

The investigation relates to four deadly incidents since Mursi's ouster, including clashes outside an elite army headquarters in Cairo in which dozens of people, mostly Islamists, were killed on July 8.

The assets freeze comes a day after prosecutors received criminal complaints against Mursi, Badie and other senior Islamists, with a view to launching a formal investigation.

Ezzedine Choukri-Fishere, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, said hardliners among the Islamists and the security services were seeking to deepen divisions.

"(Deputy leader) Khairat El-Shater and others who have led the Muslim Brotherhood over the last few years have an interest in turning this into a radical confrontation... (as do) the hawks in the security services," he told AFP.

A Brotherhood spokesman vowed to continue "peaceful" protests until the reinstatement of Mursi, who interim leaders say is being held in a "safe place, for his own safety".

"We have a noble goal, a just cause, for which we are prepared to sacrifice," Ahmed Aref told AFP.

Another Brotherhood official said protesters plan to march on the Republican Guards headquarters, scene of the July 8 violence.

Counter-demonstrations by Mursi opponents are planned in Tahrir Square, epicenter of the 2011 uprising that ousted veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak, and at Ittihadiya presidential palace.

During his single year of turbulent rule, Mursi was accused of concentrating power in Brotherhood hands, sending the economy into free-fall and failing to protect minorities.

But his supporters say his overthrow was an affront to democracy.

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