Protests in Egypt continued unabated as international pressure grew on the interim government to free the toppled president, Mohamed Morsi, and return Egypt to democracy.
Tens of thousands of people again took to the streets in the early hours of Thursday, with opponents and supporters of Morsi holding rival demonstrations in separate parts of Cairo.
They came after EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton visited the city and called on the interim government to immediately free Morsi. He has been kept in since just hours after the military toppled him on July 3.
“I believe he should be released. I was assured he is well. I would have liked to see him,” Ashton said.
Ashton also held a 45-minute meeting with Amr Darrag and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders, as well as Morsi’s prime minister, Hisham Kandil.
However, Darrag said she had offered no proposal that could resolve Egypt’s political crisis. “We are not expecting support from anybody. We are relying only on ourselves,” he said.
Protesters supporting Morsi gathered outside the Cairo office of the interim prime minister’s office on Wednesday, in a “day of steadfastness” to protest against the formation of a new cabinet.
Police turned back pro-Morsi protesters as they neared Tahrir Square, the heartland of rival Morsi opponents.
Meanwhile, the United States secretary of state, John Kerry, later said his government was concerned at political arrests in Egypt and called on the interim regime to protect people’s rights.
“Very clearly order needs to be restored to the streets, stability needs to be restored, violence needs to be ended, rights need to be protected … and the country needs to be able to return to normal business,” Kerry said while in Amman, Jordan,
“We are concerned about political arrests and we are concerned about the freedom of people to be able to participate, because we think that’s an important part of the restoration of the heart and soul of Egypt.”
In violence in Sinai on Wednesday, gunmen shot dead a policeman in El Arish, medical sources said.
Meanwhile, the interim cabinet is charged with salvaging an economy wrecked by two and a half years of turmoil. For that, it has been given a lifeline of $12bn in aid from rich Gulf Arab states
Ashton could offer the EU as a mediator. Brussels is not as big a donor to Egypt as the United States but is also less polarising, and tried in the past to mediate between Morsi and his opponents, an invitation to which Morsi did not respond.
Ahmed Galal, Egypt’s finance minister said on Wednesday that an IMF loan was only “part of the solution” to the country’s problems and the new transitional government would have to draw up a plan that would start to fix the troubled economy.