Cameron urges 'orderly transition' in Egypt

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The Independent Online

David Cameron today urged the regime in Egypt to act on international calls for an orderly transition to democracy.

Arriving at an EU summit in Brussels, the Prime Minister warned: "If we see on the streets of Cairo today state-sponsored violence by thugs hired to beat up protesters, the regime will lose any remaining credibility it has in the eyes of the watching world, including Britain."

He went on: "We have been clear that Egypt should be taking steps to show there is a clear, credible transparent path towards transition.

"So far the steps taken have not met the hopes of the people.

"EU leaders today have to come together to show they support that orderly transition."

In Egypt, demonstrators demanding the removal of President Hosni Mubarak were calling for another day of mass protests on what is being called "Friday of departure".

US officials have disclosed that Barack Obama's administration is in talks with senior Egyptian officials about the possible immediate resignation of Mr Mubarak and the establishment of an interim government to prepare for elections later in the year.

However, in an interview last night with American television, the 82-year-old president said he was fed up and wanted to stand down but could not do so because the country would sink into chaos if he left.

Meanwhile, Britons arriving home after fleeing escalating violence have described Cairo as being like a war zone, with marauding thugs and escaped prisoners terrorising the streets.

The 161 passengers arrived at Gatwick Airport last night on the first of two Foreign Office-chartered flights from the Egyptian capital.

Among those fleeing the violence was 16-year-old Shukria Ahmed-Nur, who told how marauding thugs terrorised the streets near where she lived.

She said: "There were men with samurai swords, machetes and other weapons.

"They were outside our apartments, walking up and down the stairs, which was really scary.

"We were just hoping we would get out alive."

Mother-of-two Jala Ibrahim, 33, from Fulham, west London, said: "The country is in a really bad state at the moment. It's a bit like a war zone but the people are fighting for their rights."

Robert Mant, 34, who lives in Cairo with his 33-year-old Egyptian wife Kariman, said he saw escaped prisoners dressed in civilian clothes roaming the streets.

He said: "There are gun battles between prisoners in the streets. I got hit by a rock. It's disgusting, it's a disgrace what is happening."

Stephanie Harkin, 25, a teacher, from Luton, Bedfordshire, said: "Our main problem was prisoners escaping from a nearby prison. We had a lot of men outside our house and so we had to create a makeshift neighbourhood watch.

"We had to sleep with knives by us as well.

"Across the road on the next compound there were reports that seven people had been killed and that neighbours had been attacked by thieves."

The Foreign Office has chartered a second plane tomorrow to bring home stranded Britons.

British nationals without a pressing need to be in Cairo, Alexandria or Suez have been urged to leave by commercial means, where it is safe to do so.

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said the EU had to support democratic change across North Africa.

A European Parliament delegation was already in Tunis, he told EU leaders, adding: "I believe it is time to start thinking about a new strategy between the EU and Tunisia. The lesson we learn there can also be applied to Egypt and entire neighbourhood.

"Stability matters, but a stable neighbourhood is less important than a stable democratic neighbourhood."

EU leaders were keeping an eye on unfolding events in Cairo via live television coverage and updates taken into the summit conference room by officials.

One EU Council diplomat said: "We have repeated our calls for orderly transition to democracy, but obviously anything else we say later will depend what happens throughout the day in Cairo."

The summit was getting on with scheduled discussions on EU energy and innovation plans to boost economic recovery discussions, but EU leaders were due to give thought to how to assist Egypt if the calls for democratic change are heeded

"In the short term we want change as soon as possible, and in the medium term we want to look at how we could help with technical expertise in the event of presidential elections, and also parliamentary elections," said the diplomat.

"In the longer term, there is the question of how we use the substantial amounts of aid from Europe into Egypt and rest of the Arab world. We must rethink how we use that aid budget to best effect to promote democracy and reforms."

There is no suggestion at the moment of suspending the annual £150 million a year the EU gives Egypt under a trade and aid accord which also gives the country preferential access to EU markets.

EU leaders should issue a clear demand for President Mubarak to step aside, German Socialist leader in the European Parliament Martin Schulz said.

"Summit leaders appear to be taking the easy option of simply condemning the violence. They need to be much tougher and make it clear that Europe will not tolerate Mubarak clinging desperately to office. A speedy transition, involving all democrats and civil society, is urgent."

Mr Schulz added: "On foreign policy issues, the EU too often behaves like a frightened rabbit in the headlights of a car.

"Egypt is a key player in the region and an important partner for the EU, and Europe must be unequivocally on the side of the demonstrators in Tahrir Square.

"At this historic moment for the Middle East, those brave protesters need our support. The EU summit should use all its weight to ensure that today is Mubarak's day of departure."

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