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EU holds crisis talks on Egypt with aid and arms on agenda

European Union foreign ministers will gather in Brussels on Wednesday for emergency talks on the situation in Egypt. They will meet against the backdrop of 800 deaths in a week and an ousted president sitting in prison.

The EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said ahead of Wednesday's talks that she was ready to return to Cairo and again seek to mediate between Egypt's warring factions.

"I have offered to go back. I told the Egyptian prime minister at the weekend that I would be more than willing to go back to Egypt if they wish me to come back," Ashton told reporters in Brussels on the eve of the foreign ministers' meeting. Even at a time of year when top politicians often take their holidays, most, or perhaps all of the EU's 28 foreign ministers are expected to attend on Wednesday.

Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and others have already suspended arms exports to Egypt. A major package of loans and grants worth almost 5 billion euros ($6.7 billion), agreed to on the condition of continued reforms in Egypt last year, might also be up for discussion.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said he hoped the EU would stick to its principle of "more aid for more democracy," or as he put it "in this case less-for-less." A French diplomat, meanwhile, cautioned that stopping or suspending aid programs risked "penalizing Egyptian people above all" when speaking to the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.

The US is in similar discussions on what to do with its mostly direct military assistance for Egypt. The White House on Tuesday disputed reports from a US senator's office that the US government had postponed military funding for Egypt.

"Our aid and assistance relationship with Egypt is under a review, but it has not been cut off," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, though he also said that "continued violations of basic human rights don't make the transfer of that aid more likely."

Badie, Morsi behind bars, Mubarak hoping for release

At least 800 people have died in Egypt in the past week. Over 100 of them were security forces personnel, most were supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ousted President Mohammed Morsi, who Ashton met on her last stay in Egypt, remains in custody pending official charges.

Prosecutors in Egypt also said on Tuesday that the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader, Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, would be held for a further 15 days pending trial. Badie's arrest was made public early on Tuesday.

The military ousted Morsi on July 3. The situation in Egypt intensified on August 14, when police forcibly cleared two protest camps occupied by Morsi supporters in a sit-in started shortly before he was removed from office. More than 280 Morsi supporters were killed just in the larger of the two camps, outside the Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque.

Brotherhood supporters have demanded Morsi's reinstatement, and the interim government says it is planning to usher in new elections.

Former interim vice president Mohamed ElBaradei resigned in protest over the violence, but is now being sued for a "betrayal of trust" by an Egyptian law professor.

In separate developments, Egypt's long-term leader prior to the Arab Spring, Hosni Mubarak, won conditional release in the third of four outstanding cases against him on Tuesday. His lawyer said the fourth might be resolved in a matter of days, paving the way for his release. Mubarak also faces a retrial, however, on charges of complicity in the death of civilians during protests before his resignation. He was convicted on the charges and sentenced to life in prison in June 2012, but had the verdict thrown out on appeal.

msh/dr (AFP, AP, Reuters)