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European leaders urge reform but fall short of telling president to go

Europe's leaders delivered a warning to the Egyptian authorities yesterday to answer their people with "political reform, not repression".

As protests continued in central Cairo a statement agreed at a Brussels EU summit stopped short of calling on President Hosni Mubarak to step aside.

Instead, it challenged the regime to honour the terms of a €178m-a-year EU 'Association Agreement', under which Egypt is committed to push through political and economic reforms in return for trade concessions and financial aid.

The EU statement came as Barack Obama's administration said it was in talks with Egyptian officials about the possibility of Mubarak resigning straight away, and the formation of an interim government before free and fair elections later this year.

British Prime Minister David Cameron "played a significant role" in forging the summit declaration and was satisfied with the result, a Downing Street spokesman said.

Mr Cameron spoke several times in summit talks on the exact wording, as officials kept an eye on live-television coverage of unfolding events in Cairo, where tens of thousands marched to bolster their campaign to oust the president.

The prime minister "toughened the text in several areas", said Downing Street, amid differences over how far the statement should go.

The declaration emphasised the right to free and peaceful demonstration and said any attempt to restrict the free flow of information was "unacceptable". The text urged the Egyptian authorities "to meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people with political reform, not repression".

It said: "All parties should show restraint and avoid further violence and begin an orderly transition to a broad-based government. The European Council underlined that this transition process must start now."

The declaration also held out the offer of EU support for "the transition processes towards democracy, pluralism, improved opportunities for economic prosperity and social inclusion, and strengthened regional stability''.

Irish Independent