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Egypt

EU's Catherine Ashton: Ousted Egypt President Mohammed Morsi 'well'

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has said detained former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi appeared to be "well" during an unprecedented visit. France has demanded the ousted leader's immediate release.

The European Union's top diplomat confirmed Tuesday that she had held two hours of talks with the former president during a fresh visit to Egypt aimed at defusing a bloody political crisis.

She told reporters in Cairo that Morsi "has access to information, in terms of TV and newspapers, so we were able to talk about the situation, and we were able to talk about the need to move forward."

"I've tried to make sure that his family know he is well," she added.

Ashton said she had met Morsi on Monday evening, however, refused to offer further details on the nature or location of the talks.

The EU diplomat is the first person aside from Egypt's military or security services to meet Morsi since his ouster. The army deposed the former leader on July 3 following mass anti-government protests and has since held him at an undisclosed location.

France intervenes

On Tuesday French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called for the deposed leader's release, describing the political situation in Egypt as "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.

The military-backed interim government is investigating Morsi over allegations that he conspired with the Palestinian group Hamas in order to escape from prison during the 2011 uprising that ousted the autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

His supporters have staged often deadly rallies over the past few weeks to demand his reinstatement. At least 82 people were killed during protests over the weekend, bringing the total death toll since Morsi's ouster to almost 300.

Ashton seeks to broker compromise

Ashton is in Cairo for the second time in 12 days on a visit which has seen her hold talks with representatives from the interim government and Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood allies in a bid to forge a compromise between both sides of the political crisis.

On Monday she met a string of officials including interim President Adly Mansour, Vice President for International Affairs Mohamed ElBaradei and General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the leader of the army. She also met representatives of the pro-Morsi coalition, but said "no initiatives" to resolve the crisis had been discussed.

Before arriving on Sunday, Ashton had said she would press for a "fully inclusive transition process, taking in all political groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood."

The Muslim Brotherhood has so far refused to work with the nation's new leaders, calling for fresh demonstrations on Tuesday.

ccp/mkg (AFP, Reuters, AP)