News / Middle East

    European Leaders Urge Egypt's Mubarak to Relinquish Power

    European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, February 4, 2011
    European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, February 4, 2011
    Lisa Bryant

    As anti-government protesters stage more massive rallies in Egypt, European Union leaders have toughened their calls at a summit in Brussels for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down from power - and for pro and anti-government protesters to end their violent clashes.

    Energy and the eurozone were the topics of discussion for the European leaders gathering for a one-day summit Friday. But the talks in Brussels were overshadowed by events in Egypt, where demands are growing for President Hosni Mubarak to step down - sooner, rather than later.

    Immediate transition

    Five European Union leaders issued a call Thursday, for Mr. Mubarak to begin a transition to democracy "immediately."  And on Friday, European heads of state called for the Mubarak government to hold talks with Egypt's opposition. British Prime Minister David Cameron sharpened the tone, saying the steps taken to date by Egyptian authorities are insufficient.

    "I think above all the message is this: If we see on the streets of Cairo today state sponsored violence or the hiring of thugs to beat up protesters, then Egypt and its regime would lose any remaining credibility and support in the eyes of the watching world, including Britain," said Cameron.

    Slow response?

    Despite the stronger rhetoric, analysts like Olivier Jehan, head of the Brussels office of the French Institute of International Relations, say Europe has been slow to respond to the protests washing across the Arab world - starting with Tunisia.

    "The Unites States today is the main actor and the first to react in what should be, or is, in fact the backyard of Europe," said Jehan.

    Some European lawmakers have echoed that criticism, saying Europe should be more forceful in responding to democratic aspirations across the Arab world.

    European Union leaders have also been discussing strengthening the bailout fund for the 17 members sharing the common euro currency and ways to reduce European dependency on foreign energy imports.

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