US Secretary of State John Kerry has called for Egyptian political leaders to resolve their differences. As he met his counterpart in Cairo, there were protests against both the visit and planned elections.
Kerry stressed the need for compromise between the Islamist-led government of Mohammed Morsi and the mostly secular opposition.
The secretary of state was speaking after initial talks on Saturday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr to address the widening political rift.
"There must be a willingness on all sides to make meaningful compromises on the issues that matter most to the Egyptian people," Kerry told reporters. He also stressed the importance of a $4.8 billion (3.7-billion-euro) International Monetary Fund loan, which is partly dependent on political agreement being reached.
"We do believe that in this moment of economic challenge that it is important for the Egyptian people to come together around the economic choices and to find some common ground in making those choices," he said.
The US State Department said Kerry had spoken by telephone with opposition figurehead and Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, who leads the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF). ElBaradei had turned down invitations for face-to-face talks in protest at a perceived interference in Egypt's affairs on the part of Washington. Kerry did, however, meet Amr Moussa, another leading figure from the group.
Kerry denied the allegation that the US was siding with Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood by supporting elections that the opposition is against.
"We are not here to interfere," he said. "We are here to listen. We are not here to urge anybody to take one particular action or another, though we have a point of view and certainly I will express that. But what we support is democracy and the people and the nation of Egypt."
The NSF has said the round of voting, to begin in April, will only serve to polarize the nation and that elections should not take place given the current climate of violence
As the meeting took place, there were violent protests in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura - where the city's old police headquarters were stormed - and in the city of Port Said, on the Suez Canal. Activists are promoting a campaign of civil disobedience and work stoppages to bring down the government.
Anti-Morsi demonstrators gathered outside the Foreign Ministry, setting fire to pictures of Kerry. Members of the opposition accuse Morsi and the Brotherhood of trying to monopolize power, saying that he has reneged on promises of reform.
Kerry visited Turkey on Friday after a tour of European capitals. After Egypt, he is scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
rc/hc (AFP, AP, dpa)
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