Fresh diplomatic drive to defuse Egypt crisis

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Two high-profile U.S. senators were Tuesday to hold talks in Cairo, the latest push in a growing diplomatic flurry to defuse a crisis sparked by the military's overthrow of Islamist president Mohammed Mursi.

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham arrived on Monday evening for talks with main players in the stand-off between Mursi’s supporters and Egypt’s army-appointed new authorities.

Egypt’s political crisis, sparked by the military’s July 3 ouster of Mursi, has paralyzed the country and deepened political polarization and social divisions.

Mursi loyalists, mostly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, say the removal of the country’s first freely elected president is a violation of democratic principles and nothing short of his reinstatement would end their sit-ins.

The interim leadership says there is no turning back on the army-drafted roadmap that provides for new elections in 2014.

More than 250 people have been killed since Mursi’s ouster.

As tensions mounted over the looming break-up of two major sit-ins staged by Mursi loyalists, Vice President Mohamed al-Baradei urged the Brotherhood to find a peaceful way out of the crisis and appealed to Egypt’s media to stop “demonizing” the group.

He called on the Brotherhood “to join the peaceful solutions. Don’t count on the security forces dispersing the sit-ins by force, causing a massacre and turning you into victims.”

Such a scenario “would only increase the people’s anger against you.”

But the Brotherhood is standing its ground.

“Only a political solution to restore continuity of constitutional legitimacy will end crisis,” said the group’s spokesman Gehad al-Haddad on Twitter.

In recent days, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, EU foreign policy supremo Catherine Ashton, EU envoy Bernardino Leon, Arab diplomats, an African delegation and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle have all travelled to Cairo in a bid to defuse the crisis.

Leon met Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi on Monday after he and Burns met the day before with the number two of Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, Khairat al-Shater, in prison.

A spokeswoman for the State Department in Washington said that Burns and Leon had visited Shater on Sunday, accompanied by the foreign ministers of regional US allies Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said the visit was intended to "prevent further violence, calm tensions and facilitate an inclusive dialogue among Egyptians that can help the transition to a democratically elected civilian government".

However, Mursi’s deputy gave the delegation a cold shoulder, according Haddad.

Shater refused to discuss the situation with the envoys, saying only that the Brotherhood's position on defending Mursi’s legitimacy was “unchanged.”

Authorities have promised demonstrators a safe exit and said an end to their protests would allow the Muslim Brotherhood to return to political life.

Mursi himself has been formally remanded in custody on suspicion of offences committed when he escaped from prison during the 2011 revolt that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.

State department spokeswoman Harf said that “as of now,” Burns had no plans to meet Mursi.

Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also met with several influential Islamist leaders on Sunday to mediate a solution with the Brotherhood.

But Yasser Ali, a spokesman for the pro-Mursi demonstrators, said the clerics had met Sisi “without having been mandated.”

Sisi, who also met Burns during the envoy’s visit, has urged Washington to use its “leverage” with the Muslim

Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy has stressed that authorities have “no desire to use force if there is any other avenue that has not been exhausted.”

But the violence continued on Monday, with a soldier shot dead and two others wounded in two separate attacks in the Sinai Peninsula.

Gunmen shot at an army checkpoint outside a military building in the north Sinai town of al-Arish, killing one soldier, security officials said.

The two other servicemen were wounded when gunmen attacked another checkpoint outside a bank.

Security in Sinai has deteriorated since Mursi’s overthrow and the latest death brings to 32 the number of security forces killed in the area.

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