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Leaders urge Egypt reforms; evacuations planned

world Updated: Jan 31, 2011 11:48 IST

AP
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Countries sent planes Monday to evacuate their citizens from the unrest in Egypt as world leaders called on President Hosni Mubarak to implement reforms and seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Heads of state from Europe urged the Egyptian government to implement democratic reforms and avoid further violence against protesters. Asian powers China, India and Japan said they were closely watching developments and hoping for a peaceful resolution, while preparing flights to get their citizens out of harm's way. 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. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Mubarak in a phone call on Sunday that she expects him and his newly nominated government to grant freedom of information and the right to assemble, 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 avoid further violence against protesters.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking at the African Union's regular summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, said that "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 also discussed the Egyptian crisis Sunday evening, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said.

"The prime minister and the 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. Leaders in Asia were cautious.

China's Foreign Ministry said Beijing hopes normalcy and stability will be restored in Egypt soon. The Japanese and Indian foreign ministries issued similar statements.

"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 realize its stability and progress," Japan's government said.

Following Europe, Canada and the United States, governments across Asia were arranging transportation for their citizens to leave Cairo. China's state television reported a plane is on its way, and that there are more than 500 Chinese at the airport. The Indian government has arranged an Air India flight to carry 300 Indians, mainly women and children, from Cairo to India, according to a statement by the External Affairs Ministry. "We are closely following with concern the developments in Egypt. India has traditionally enjoyed close and friendly relations. We hope for an early and peaceful resolution of the situation without further violence and loss of lives," said ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash.

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 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 Sunday at the African Union's summit in Addis Ababa, called on the Egyptian government to respect fundamental freedoms and human rights.