World leaders call on Egypt to implement reforms

Several heads of state urge Egypt`s govt to stop violence against protesters.

Berlin: Several European heads of state urged the Egyptian government to implement democratic reforms and avoid further violence against protesters, while Asian powers China and Japan said they were closely watching developments and hoping for a peaceful resolution.

The protests in Egypt were to top the agenda of a meeting of European Union foreign ministers on Monday in Brussels. The EU has traditionally had particularly close relations with Egypt as part of its partnerships with countries on the eastern and southern rims of the Mediterranean.

With the situation still fluid, leaders were cautious about their public statements.

But the initial reaction in Europe and elsewhere stressed the right of Egyptians to assemble and supported calls for reform in the Arab world`s most populous nation.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and several other heads of state urged the Egyptian government on Sunday to implement democratic reforms and to stop any further violence against protesters.

Merkel told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in a phone call that she expects him and his newly nominated government to grant freedom of information and the right to assemble to the people of Egypt, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

She urged Mubarak in a lengthy conversation to open dialogue with the country`s citizens, and focus in particular on the concerns of Egypt`s youth. She also told him that security forces have to stop exercising further violence against protesters.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking at the African Union`s regular summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, said, "It is with friendship and respect that France will be on the side of Tunisians and Egyptians in such a crucial period."

"Our conscience needs to be pricked by the cries of innocent victims and move us toward finding a workable solution to prevent further suffering," he added.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama discussed the Egyptian crisis on Sunday evening, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said.

"The (British) Prime Minister and the (US) President agreed that the Egyptian government must respond peacefully to the ongoing protests," a spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity in line with department policy. "They condemned the violence of recent days ... The Prime Minister made clear that restrictions on the media and Internet were unacceptable and should be lifted immediately."

Cameron and Obama "were united in their view that Egypt now needed a comprehensive process of political reform, with an orderly, Egyptian-led transition leading to a government that responded to the grievances of the Egyptian people," the spokeswoman said.

The British Foreign Office confirmed that a conversation between Foreign Secretary William Hague and his Egyptian counterpart had also taken place, but did not release any further details.

European Union officials said the unrest in Egypt will top the agenda at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday in Brussels, as European countries advised their nationals to leave the region.

The EU has traditionally had close relations with Egypt as part of its partnerships with countries on the eastern and southern rims of the Mediterranean.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini demanded an end to violence and looting on Sunday, particularly of Egypt`s cultural heritage, after would-be looters broke into Cairo`s famed Egyptian Museum and ripped the heads off two mummies and damaged some artefacts.

Italy helped fund the restoration of Baghdad`s museum after looters carted off thousands of artefacts following the downfall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

In Asia, China`s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Beijing hopes normalcy and stability will be restored in Egypt soon. Japan`s Foreign Ministry issued a similarly cautious statement.

"We hope that the government of Egypt will listen to the voices of many citizens, promote reforms in a way that gains support of a wide range of people and realise its stability and progress," the statement said.

Japan and China, following Europe`s lead, were arranging transportation for its citizens to leave Cairo. China said it will send an Airbus A330 to Cairo on Monday to evacuate Chinese citizens. State television reported that the plane can carry 265 passengers and that there are more than 500 Chinese at the airport.

A notice on the website of the Chinese embassy in Cairo said China has issued a travel warning and requested its citizens not to travel to Egypt. It said embassy staff have been providing food and water to stranded Chinese at the airport.

In Washington, Obama told foreign leaders this weekend to spread word of the US administration`s desire for restraint and an orderly transition to a more responsive government in Egypt.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that the US wants to see "real democracy" emerge in Egypt, "not a democracy for six months or a year and then evolving into essentially a military dictatorship”.

The White House said that Obama had sought input from European and Middle Eastern officials, and has told them that the US is focused on opposing violence and supporting broad democratic rights, including the right to peaceful assembly and speech.

It said that Obama had also spoken with leaders from Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, also speaking on Sunday at the African Union`s summit in Addis Ababa, called on the Egyptian government to respect fundamental freedoms and human rights.

Bureau Report