• Egypt warns of strong response to violence

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    CAIRO: Egypt’s hardline military leader pledged a “forceful” response to violence rocking the country, as top European Union (EU) officials held a first round of emergency talks on Monday on the crisis that has claimed nearly 800 lives in five days.

    In his first comments since authorities launched a bloody crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned security forces would confront any further violence from protesters.

    “We will never be silent in the face of the destruction of the country,” said Sisi, who overthrew Morsi on July 3 after protests against the Islamist president’s rule.

    “We are very prepared for this,” he said, pledging a “forceful” response to further attacks on police stations and government buildings.

    The violence sparked by the crackdown has drawn international condemnation and EU leaders have warned the bloc will “urgently review” ties with Cairo in the coming days.

    The European Union has pledged nearly five billion euros ($6.7 billion) in aid to Egypt but the bloc has cautioned this too was under “constant review” after Morsi’s ouster.

    In a joint statement on the eve of the talks, EU leaders Herman van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso said: “The EU will urgently review in the coming days its relations with Egypt.”

    Calling for violence to end “immediately,” they stressed that “the calls for democracy and fundamental freedoms from the Egyptian population cannot be disregarded, much less washed away in blood.”

    But the bloodshed showing little sign of stopping on Sunday as 36 Islamists were killed during an attempted jailbreak.

    There were conflicting reports of how the deaths occurred but the Egyptian interior ministry said the prisoners had taken an officer hostage and died after suffocating on tear gas.

    “Thirty-six of the prisoners died of suffocation and crowding after tear gas was used to stop their escape,” the ministry said.

    The killings were the latest in five days of bloodshed since Wednesday’s police and military operation to clear Islamists from protest camps in Cairo.

    The Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s once banned movement that backed his election victory in 2012, said 35 prisoners died, revising an earlier toll of 52.

    “The murder of 35 detained anti-coup protestors affirms the intentional violence aimed at opponents of the coup, and the cold-blooded killing of which they are targets,” it said in a statement in English.

    The Islamists said they cancelled “several marches” on Sunday, citing fears of vigilantes and snipers.

    Elsewhere in Egypt, hundreds of protesters briefly marched in the Suez canal city of Ismailiya, an AFP correspondent said.

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