• Egypt pressed on reforms, gets aid

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    CAIRO: US Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Egypt’s leaders to allow greater political freedoms on Sunday (Monday in Manila), as Washington unlocked some $572 million in military aid for Cairo and hurried the dispatch of 10 Apache helicopters.

    Kerry became the highest-ranking US official to meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since he came to power earlier this month, amid Egypt’s rocky transition to democracy since the ousting of long-time leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

    The top US diplomat’s tour is also focused on trying to find a political solution in Iraq, where Islamic militants on Sunday made new gains in an offensive that has triggered international alarm.

    Kerry told a press conference he had emphasized in his “candid” talks with Sisi that the new government must uphold “the universal rights and freedoms of all Egyptians.”

    “We also discussed the essential role of a vibrant civil society, free press, rule of law and due process in a democracy,” he added.

    Kerry’s call for a free press in Egypt comes as a court on Monday is due to deliver its ruling in the trial of three Al-Jazeera journalists and 17 other co-defendants, accused of aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

    Their trial, in which the three journalists are accused of “spreading false news” and links to the Brotherhood, has sparked an international outcry as rights activists fear Egypt could return to autocracy worse than under Mubarak.

    “Obviously this is a critical moment of transition in Egypt,” Kerry said earlier as he met new Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri.

    But he stressed “the United States remains deeply committed to seeing Egypt succeed.”

    Since Egypt’s first freely elected leader Morsi was toppled by Sisi in July 2013, a government crackdown on his supporters has left more than 1,400 people dead in street clashes and at least 15,000 jailed.

    An US official told journalists traveling on the plane with Kerry that “the Egyptian government needs to have a very politically inclusive approach, which means that they need to include and find ways to reach out to the Muslim Brothers.”

    Kerry’s visit comes a day after an Egyptian court confirmed death sentences for 183 Islamists, including Brotherhood chief Mohamed Badie.

    US officials also revealed that $572 million (420 million euros) in aid, which had been frozen since October, was released to Egypt about 10 days ago after a green light from Congress. It will mainly go to pay existing defense contracts.

    AFP

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