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French foreign minister calls on Egypt to release Morsi

France's foreign minister called on Egypt Tuesday to release political prisoners, including deposed leader Mohammed Morsi, hours after EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton became the first international official to meet Morsi since his ouster.


French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday that Egypt's deposed leader, Mohammed Morsi, should be released, calling the country's political situation "very critical."

"France calls for the rejection of violence and for the release of political prisoners, including former president Morsi," Fabius told journalists in Paris.

Ashton describes two-hour meeting with Morsi

Earlier, EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton met with ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi as his supporters began rallying for a “million person march” in Cairo.

It was the first time an outsider was given access to Morsi since the army overthrew him and jailed him a month ago. Ashton said she’d found him in good health.

In Egypt to discuss the political stand-off, Ashton said she would not divulge any of the details of her conversation with Morsi, explaining that she did not want to put words in the ousted leader’s mouth knowing that he was not in a position to correct her.

She did say, however, that Morsi was well and was informed about the current situation in Egypt, having access to the news. She also described their conversation as “warm”.

Ashton went on to stress the importance of Egypt overcoming its political crisis on its own to build the foundations of a strong democracy. “I've urged everyone to think very carefully about how to include everyone in the process – because it’s of enormous importance,” she said.

“This is for the people of Egypt to work through,” Ashton added. “It really matters that there is a strong future for the country, politically and economically, and that's what needs to happen.”

‘Million person march’

The Anti-Coup Alliance of Islamist groups protesting against Morsi's ouster on Monday called for "a million person march under the banner of 'Martyrs of the Coup' on Tuesday."

They urged Egyptians "to go out into the streets and squares, to regain their freedom and dignity – that are being usurped by the bloody coup – and for the rights of the martyrs assassinated by its bullets."

In Cairo, Morsi's supporters marched towards security headquarters amid warnings from the authorities not to exceed their rights to peaceful protest.

The military also urged protesters not to "approach military facilities or units, (and) help us to protect your safety."

Crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood

Ashton, who arrived in Cairo late Sunday, held talks with a string of officials throughout Monday, including interim president Adly Mansour, vice president for international affairs Mohamed ElBaradei and army chief General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.

On Monday night, she also met representatives of the pro-Morsi coalition, who said that "no initiatives" to resolve the crisis had been discussed.

A crackdown on Morsi supporters continued Monday, with the arrest of the president and vice president of the moderate Islamist Wasat party, which has protested the July 3 coup.

Morsi is being held on suspicion of crimes relating to his escape from prison during the 2011 uprising that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak.

In the Sinai Peninsula meanwhile, a security source said two policemen were killed in separate shooting attacks in El-Arish.

And in Cairo, 15 people were killed in a brawl between street vendors and shop owners over space, including 13 who died in a fire.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)


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