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Commotion at Merkel's conference with al-Sisi

June 3, 2015

Angela Merkel has praised Egypt's peace efforts in the Middle East following a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Berlin. The pair's press conference was shut down after it descended into chaos.

Berlin Pressekonferenz Merkel al-Sisi Eklat Regimegegnerin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/von Jutrczenka

The news conference hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Wednesday came to an abrupt end after security was called in to remove a female reporter who addressed al-Sisi yelling "He's a murderer!"

There were also cries of "down with the military rule" from the press pack, while reporters from Egypt yelled "long live Egypt!" before the two leaders were hurriedly whisked from the room.

Before the upset, Merkel had pledged closer economic ties with Egypt, saying the country was a key strategic partner in the Middle East and in the fight against Islamist extremism.

"Egypt is one of the central countries in a region marked by unrest and instability," the chancellor said, adding that closer business links would help bring "stability through economic development."

Berlin Pressekonferenz Merkel al-Sisi
Merkel: There are areas where we our opinions differImage: Reuters/F. Bensch

Al-Sisi, Egypt's former army chief, led the coup that ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in 2013. He was subsequently elected by a landslide and has waged a brutal crackdown against Morsi's supporters ever since. Hundreds have been killed or jailed, while dozens, including Morsi, have been sentenced to death in a series of mass trials.

Al-Sisi's two-day visit to Berlin has stirred up some controversy in Germany. Human rights activists have organized a number of street protests to coincide with the Egyptian leader's trip, while NGOs including Amnesty International have asked Merkel to urge al-Sisi to end Egypt's "human rights crisis."

Germany's government is keen to maintain a cordial relationship with its partner in North Africa, although Bundestag house speaker Norbert Lammert called off his meeting with al-Sisi, citing Egypt's lack of democracy and the crackdown on political opposition.

Berlin Besuch al-Sisi Demonstration Regimegegner
Protesters gathered outside Berlin's Bellevue presidential palace as al-Sisi was welcomed with military honorsImage: Reuters/F. Bensch

'Difference of opinion'

In Wednesday's press conference, Merkel acknowledged there were "differences of opinion" between the two countries on human rights matters and capital punishment. The chancellor criticized Cairo's reliance on the death penalty and stressed that "under no circumstances, even with regard to terrorist activities, must people be sentenced to death."

She added however, that "if one wants to be partners and solve complex issues, we have to be able talk about these things ... this doesn't mean that we can't work very, very closely on other issues."

Al-Sisi defended the death sentences, saying it was a matter for the Egyptian judiciary. "Let the process run its course," he said. "We, too, love democracy and freedoms in Egypt. But we live in a very difficult time."

Earlier on Wednesday, al-Sisi was welcomed by German President Joachim Gauck with full military honors at Berlin's Bellevue Palace. The Egyptian leader was later expected to meet with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

nm/kms (AP, Reuters, dpa)