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EU offers more financial aid to Egypt as president visits

The European Union has pledged more economic aid to Egypt during a visit to Brussels by Mohammed Morsi. The Egyptian president's visit is seen as a bid to boost his democratic credentials.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a press conference that the additional financial aid would go towards supporting Egypt's planned transition to a fully fledged democracy.

"We can increase our program of financial cooperation with Egypt precisely to support, in general terms, these consolidated democracy efforts that President Morsi is so committed to," Barroso said.

"Egypt can count on the European Union," Barroso told the conference.

He said the commission had offered Egypt 500 million euros ($646 million) in macro-financial assistance if Egypt negotiated a program with the International Monetary Fund. He also offered budget support of 150-200 million euros for the country's economic recovery.

Commitment to democracy

Morsi had previously pledged to "move forward from corruption, from dictatorship, to a new phase of freedom for all, of democracy for all, of the rule of law, of guaranteeing the rights of all Egyptians."

The new EU pledge of aid would come on top of the 449 million euros that the bloc is already contributing to job-creation schemes, reducing youth unemployment and training programs, among other things.

Barroso also said that the EU, already Egypt's largest trading partner, was ready to begin negotiations with Cairo on a "deep" free trade deal.

Brussels is keen to shore up developed democracies in the Middle East in the interest of Europe's security. An EU-Egypt task force is to meet November 14-15 to explore trade potential and restore investor confidence.

Equal rights

Protesters set fire to police vehicles during clashes with riot police along a road that leads to the US embassy, near Tahrir Square in Cairo. (Photo: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Protesters demonstrated near the US embassy in Cairo

Morsi, an Islamist who was chosen as Egypt's first freely elected president in May-June polls, also spoke about protests sparked in the Muslim world by a US-made film critical of Islam, including a violent assault on the US embassy in Cairo.

While condemning violence, he also criticized "attacks" on Islam.

"We Egyptians reject any kind of assault or insult against our Prophet," he said. "(But) it is our duty to protect our guests and visitors from abroad."

Morsi also said he had spoken to US President Barack Obama and that he condemned "in the clearest terms" attacks in the Libyan city of Benghazi that killed the US ambassador and three other Americans.

Morsi went on to stress his commitment to respect the equality of all Egyptians, with no distinction between Muslims and Copts, and to equal rights for women.

tj/mkg (AFP, dpa)