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US discourages crackdown on Morsi supporters

Egypt’s generals risk jeopardizing ‘second chance’

“We have called on the military to avoid any politically motivated arrests,” said William Burns.

“We have called on the military to avoid any politically motivated arrests,” said William Burns.

CAIRO — In the clearest statement yet of the US position on the Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, a senior US diplomat warned Monday that the generals would jeopardize Egypt’s “second chance” at a democratic transition if a crackdown on Morsi’s Islamist supporters continued.

“If representatives of some of the largest parties in Egypt are detained or excluded, how are dialogue and participation possible?” the diplomat, Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns, said, speaking briefly to journalists after a meeting Monday with Egyptian military officials and the interim government they have appointed.

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“It is hard to picture how Egypt will be able to emerge from this crisis unless its people come together to find a nonviolent and inclusive path forward,” Burns said.

His visit to Cairo was the first by a senior US official since the takeover.

Burns spoke against the backdrop of a standoff between the interim government and tens of thousands of Islamists who have staged a sit-in protest against the ouster of Morsi.

His supporters have been holding demonstrations outside an east Cairo mosque since his ouster, demanding that he be reinstated.

Burns urged both sides to take steps toward reconciliation.

urging reconciliation

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“The government itself has said it wants inclusion of all political streams,” he said. “We have called on the military to avoid any politically motivated arrests. And we have also called upon those who differ with the government to adhere to their absolute obligation to participate peacefully.”

He did not mention Morsi by name, nor the Islamist movement behind him, the Muslim Brotherhood. When an Egyptian journalist asked how the new government responded to US calls for Morsi’s release from detention, Burns said only: “We have made our views clear on that issue.”

Speaking at a moment when anti-American sentiment is running high on all sides, Burns said he had “no illusions” about the number of Egyptians who have deep suspicions of the United States.

Morsi’s supporters accuse Washington of giving its blessing to the military’s removal of Morsi, the country’s first elected president. His opponents say the Obama administration wrongly supported Morsi’s Islamist government. Banners in Tahrir Square — the frequent focal point of protest — and elsewhere denounce President Obama as an enabler of the Brotherhood and depict the US ambassador to Egypt, Anne W. Patterson, with a large X over her face.

Burns emphasized repeatedly that the United States did not back any individuals or parties in Egypt, only the principle of an open and inclusive transition to a democracy. He said Washington hoped the “ongoing transition” would be “a chance to learn some of the lessons and correct some of the mistakes of the past two years.”

He expressed hope that the military-led government’s plan for constitutional amendments and elections would “hasten Egypt’s return to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible.”

That plan, known as the road map, calls for a small panel of chosen judges and jurists to draft amendments that would be reviewed by a 50-person assembly for two months, followed by a national referendum.

But the broader political process in Egypt has all but shut down, with the government locking up Islamist leaders and silencing their satellite television networks, while the Islamists — who took almost 75 percent of the seats in the last parliamentary elections — refuse to participate in what they consider an antidemocratic process.

In a further sign of the country’s divisions, Islamist militants in Sinai used rocket-propelled grenades to attack a bus early Monday, killing three people and injuring 17, state media reported. The assault on the bus is part of a sharp increase in violence in the relatively lawless Sinai region since Morsi’s ouster.

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