• US secretary of state to begin Middle East tour

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    WASHINGTON, D.C.: United States (US) Secretary of State John Kerry headed to the Middle East on Saturday (Sunday in Manila), aiming to shore up decades-old alliances with Egypt and Saudi Arabia left badly frayed by the turbulence sweeping the region.

    Egyptian state media said the top diplomat would visit Cairo on Sunday for the first time since Washington froze part of its $1.5 billion in annual aid, angered by the bloodshed and lack of democratic progress since the July ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.

    The Cairo stop was not immediately confirmed by US officials.

    It would come just a day before Islamist leader Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, is due to go on trial on charges of inciting the murder of protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012.

    Clashes and unrest between supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and military security forces have left about 1,000 dead since he was overthrown by the army on July 3.

    The US administration has openly voiced concern at the lack of visible progress by the interim military-led leadership toward restoring democracy and holding fresh presidential and parliamentary elections.

    Washington announced in early October that it was “recalibrating” its aid to Egypt, which includes about $1.3 billion for military assistance.

    It also said it was suspending the delivery of big-ticket items such as Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 Abrams tank parts and Harpoon missiles until it sees some progress on democratic reforms.

    If Kerry’s Cairo trip goes ahead, the timing is somewhat awkward, with Morsi’s trial likely to inflame further protests by his Islamist backers.

    A huge security net is being thrown over the southern part of the city, with some 20,000 police being deployed to guard the police academy where proceedings against Morsi and 14 other defendants will take place.

    AFP

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