US urges Egypt to allow pro-Morsi protests

WASHINGTON, District of Columbia, Aug 13, 2013 (AFP)

The United States on Tuesday urged Egypt’s military-backed interim government to allow supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi to protest freely as fresh demonstrations took place in Cairo.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Washington regarded freedom to protest as a “key part” of the democratic process but would be concerned by reports of violence.

Clashes between pro and anti-Morsi demonstrators and security forces have killed more than 250 people since the end of June.

“Clearly, we’re watching the situation on the ground very closely,” Harf said.

“We encourage the interim government to allow people to protest — that’s a key part of moving forward with the democratic process, and of course, would be concerned by new reports of violence.”

Harf was speaking after Morsi supporters held a wave of demonstrations outside several Egyptian ministries.

Police fired tear gas to break up brief clashes that erupted between Morsi loyalists and residents of one Cairo neighborhood.

“I know the situation is unfolding as we speak now, but we’ll be monitoring it closely,” Harf said.

Washington has walked a careful line since the democratically elected Morsi, Egypt’s first Islamist leader, was ousted by the military on July 3 amid massive protests against his rule.

The United States, which provides $1.5 billion in mostly military aid to Egypt every year, maintains close ties to the Egyptian military but says it favors a rapid return to elected civilian rule.

“I would say that we made clear that we had some concerns with the way Mr Morsi was governing,” Harf said.

“And when we have similar concerns with the way the interim government is acting, we will certainly make those clear to the interim government as well.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to give his backing to the overthrow of Morsi earlier this month, stating that the army had acted to “restore democracy.”

But he later appeared to dial back on the comment, stating: “Egypt needs to get back to a new normal.”

The United States has declined to describe Morsi’s ouster as a “coup” to avoid having to cut the $1.3 billion in aid to Egypt’s military. US law stipulates that any military aid must be suspended in the event of a civilian government being ousted by the military.

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