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Egypt presidency says diplomacy failed to end crisis

Egypt's presidency said on Wednesday that diplomatic efforts to end the country's political turmoil had failed and warned that the Muslim Brotherhood of ousted President Mohamed Mursi would be held responsible for the consequences.

In a statement, interim President Adly Mansour's office said the period of international efforts that began more than 10 days ago had "ended today".

Envoys from the United States, European Union, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been trying to defuse the crisis and prevent further bloodshed.

The breakdown raised the prospect of heightened instability and bloodshed in the most populous Arab state which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the strategic Suez Canal. Egypt's crisis also has a wider impact on other countries, such as Tunisia, which saw similar Arab Spring uprisings in 2001.

The state held the Muslim Brotherhood completely responsible for "the failure of these efforts and the later events and developments that might result from this failure related to breaches of the law and endangering civil peace", the presidency statement added.

Thousands of supporters of Mursi, who was toppled by the army on July 3, have been staging protest sit-ins in two areas of Cairo for the last five weeks to demand his reinstatement.

Egyptian authorities had warned they were losing patience with the sit-ins, which can swell to tens of thousands. The presidency's declaration suggests security forces could soon use force to break up the gatherings.

Prime Minister Hazem el-Biblawi met with army chief and defense minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim on Wednesday, state-run al-Ahram newspaper reported.

The discussions included the sit-ins, and emphasized the interior ministry's mandate to deal with "violence and terrorism", a reference to the Brotherhood.

At the biggest protest camp outside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in northeast Cairo, Mursi supporters were defiant.

"If they try to break up the sit-in there will be a huge loss of life. We are prepared for this. We leave our homes every day ready to die," said Yusri Ismael, standing near sandbags and wearing a blue hard hat.

Almost 300 people have been killed in political violence since the overthrow, including 80 shot dead by security forces in a single incident on July 27.

Underscoring concerns over deeper turmoil, Egypt's leading Islamic authority Al-Azhar plans to host talks on the crisis next week, the state news agency MENA reported.

Al-Azhar would call people who had proposed initiatives to end the standoff for "an important meeting" after the Eid el-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, MENA said. The holiday lasts from Thursday to Sunday.

"There are some initiatives that can be built upon to start national reconciliation," an al-Azhar official told MENA.

The meeting would be held in the presence of Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Sheikh of the 1,000-year old institution, who endorsed the military takeover last month.

The presidency statement said the government had allowed the foreign envoys "to visit and discuss" the situation, including with jailed Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

The aim was to urge the Brotherhood to "respect the will of the people" who had protested to demand an end to Mursi's rule.

"These efforts did not achieve the hoped-for success, despite the complete support the Egyptian government offered," said the presidency.

Mohamed Ali Bishr, a senior Brotherhood politician who has represented the group in the recent talks with diplomats, told Reuters he needed time to confer with other Brotherhood leaders before responding to the presidency's statement.

U.S. Envoy Leaves

Pro-Mursi parties and leftists who backed his removal called rival street demonstrations for Thursday, making the public holiday a potential flashpoint.

The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, which includes the Brotherhood, urged Mursi supporters to take to the streets for an "Eid of Victory".

The leftist Popular Current party called for public Eid prayers in Tahrir Square, epicenter of the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, and in squares across the country "to celebrate Eid and announce the completion of the revolution and to support national independence".

The senior U.S. diplomat involved in the mediation effort left Egypt on Wednesday, Cairo airport officials said shortly after the government declared diplomatic efforts had failed.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns had held talks with both the government and members of the Muslim Brotherhood during the mediation effort, together with European Union envoy Bernardino Leon and the Qatari and UAE foreign ministers.

The EU said it was very concerned by the breakdown of the mediation effort and urged a peaceful solution.

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the Europeans would "continue to do all we can to try and encourage people to get this inclusive dialogue going, that is so important to see a return to the democratic transition in Egypt". Leon was still in Cairo talking to all sides, he added.

On Tuesday, two visiting senior U.S. senators, Republicans Lindsey Graham and John McCain, called on the military to release political prisoners and start a national dialogue to return the country to democratic rule.

"I didn't know it was this bad. These folks are just days or weeks away from all-out bloodshed," Graham told the CBS network.

Egyptian officials and media reacted angrily to their criticism of the military takeover and call for dialogue.

MENA quoted presidential spokesman Ahmed al-Muslimani as saying that Egypt "did not need a certificate of good conduct or behavior from anyone".

Fears that Mursi was trying to establish an Islamist autocracy, coupled with a failure to ease economic hardships afflicting most of Egypt's 84 million people, led to mass street protests, triggering the army intervention.

In the latest violence, gunmen in Sinai Peninsula near the border with Israel killed a politician on Wednesday who was a member of parliament during the era of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, security sources said.

Attackers in a car fired four bullets at Abdel Hamid Silmi as he left a mosque, the sources said, adding that he had been a member of Mubarak's now outlawed National Democratic Party.

Islamist militants, mostly based in North Sinai, have escalated attacks on security forces and other targets since Mursi was deposed last month.

The Muslim Brotherhood says it has no connection with the militants, who have struck almost daily, killing about 40 people, according to medical officials. Many of those killed were members of the security forces.

[Source: By Michael Georgy and Maggie Fick, Reuters, Cairo, 07Aug13]

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Crisis in Egypt
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