EU’s Ashton on surprise visit to Egypt for talks with new regime

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A day after Egypt’s interim government was sworn in, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday was to head to the country on a surprise visit.

Ashton’s office said her visit was to press the case for a swift return to democratic rule, AFP news agency reported,

“I am going to Egypt to reinforce our message that there must be a fully inclusive political process, taking in all groups which support democracy,” Ashton said.

The visits will follow U.S. envoy Bill Burns’ trip to Cairo on Monday. Burns became the most senior American official to visit since the July 3 coup and appealed for an end to the violence rocking the country.

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

But Leaders of Egypt’s second-largest Islamist party and the Tamarod movement, which sparked the June 30 protests which led to the ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Mursi, refused to meet Burns.

Nader Bakkar, spokesman of the Salafist Nour Party, told Al Arabiya that the party’s leader was invited to meet the U.S. official, but refused and did not provide a reason.

Mahmoud Badr, spokesman of the Tamarod (Rebellion) campaign that called for Mursi’s ouster, also told Al Arabiya that it declined to attend the meeting because of what it perceives as U.S. interference in Egypt’s domestic affairs.

Meanwhile, the newly sworn in cabinet lineup does not include any members from Islamist groups or parties, even from the Salafist Nour party, which supported the military roadmap for transition.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the influential movement from which Mursi hails, rejected the 35-member cabinet, with spokesman Gehad El-Haddad telling AFP: “We don’t recognize its legitimacy or its authority.”

Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the general behind the popularly backed coup that overthrew Mursi, was appointed first deputy prime minister and minister of defense in the government headed by liberal economist Hazem al-Beblawi

Mohammed Ibrahim, the interior minister who was appointed by Mursi, remains in his post, in charge of the police. Nabil Fahmy, who was Egypt’s ambassador to the United States from 1999-2008, becomes foreign minister.

Interim President Adly Mansour named three women in the Cabinet, taking the powerful ministries of information and health as well as the environment ministry. The Cabinet has 33 members, not including el-Beblawi.

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