Cairo protests 311.
(photo credit: AP Photo/Victoria Hazou)
BRUSSELS — Egypt needs a peaceful transition to democracy, EU foreign ministers urged Monday, warning the country's citizens to be on guard against a takeover by religious militants.
"I am sure Egyptians will be in a position to choose democracy and civil rights, not extremism, not radicalism," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.
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Frattini spoke ahead of the monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers, where the situation in Egypt and Tunisia will top the agenda.
The European Union has traditionally had particularly close relations with both nations as part of its partnerships with countries on the eastern and southern rims of the Mediterranean.
But in recent days, the 27-nation bloc has been seeking to distance itself from the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Still, it has been criticized for its reluctance to criticize Mubarak directly and for waiting for the US to take the lead.
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appealed for an orderly transition to lasting democracy
in Egypt and refused to speculate on the future of the 82-year-old Mubarak or his teetering government.
Also on Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Mubarak in a phone call that she expects him and his newly reformed government to grant freedom of information and the right to assemble. She urged Mubarak in a lengthy conversation to open dialogue with the country's citizens and focus in particular on the concerns of Egypt's youth. She also told him that security forces have to avoid further violence against protesters, according to a German government spokesman.
Initial reactions in Europe and elsewhere stressed the right of Egyptians to assemble and supported calls for reform.
International Mideast envoy Tony Blair said "there's bound to be a process of change" in Egypt's leadership following the week of anti-government protests that have gripped the country.
Speaking during a visit to Israel on Monday, Blair said he was concerned that unrest in Egypt could disrupt the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"Change is going to happen, but it should be the right type of change and that process of change needs to be managed with order and stability so that you don't end up in a situation worse than the one we have and destabilizing the region," he said.
Leaders in Asia were cautious.
China's Foreign Ministry said Beijing hopes normalcy and stability will be restored in Egypt soon. The Japanese and Indian foreign ministries issued similar statements.
"We hope that the government of Egypt will listen to the voices of many citizens, promote reforms in a way that gains support of a wide range of people and realize its stability and progress," Japan's government said.
Some governments expressed concern about the possible rise of Islamic militancy in Egypt, a key Western ally. Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, arriving Monday in Brussels, said his nation was worried about the possible rise to power of extremists, adding "we don't want that."
"The challenges that Egypt is facing are daunting," said his Swedish counterpart, Carl Bildt, adding that it was of critical importance that Egypt's elections this year be free and fair.
Ministers were also expected to discuss whether to start evacuating the
tens of thousands of EU citizens currently in Egypt. Most of these are
tourists who flock to Egypt during the winter.
EU nations have refrained from calling on their citizens to leave the
country, saying that so far there have been no incidents involving EU
citizens in Egypt. But other countries, including the United States,
have recommended that their citizens leave Egypt as soon as possible.