Cameron's 'grave concern' for Egypt

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Protesters throw firebombs at riot police in a street near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo (AP)

David Cameron has spoken to President Hosni Mubarak to express his “grave concern” about violence against anti-government protesters in Egypt.

The Prime Minister urged the embattled leader to “take bold steps to accelerate political reform and build democratic legitimacy” rather than attempt to repress dissent, according to Downing Street.

In a joint statement with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr Cameron added: “The Egyptian people have legitimate grievances and a longing for a just and better future.

“We urge President Mubarak to embark on a process of transformation which should be reflected in a broad-based government and in free and fair elections.”

Mr Cameron made his intervention in a telephone call on Saturday evening as tens of thousands of protesters were still on the streets demanding reforms and an end to Mr Mubarak’s three-decade rule. More than 50 people are said to have died during five days of clashes with police, and thousands more have been injured.

Mr Mubarak tried to ease the crisis on Friday by sacking his cabinet and appointing a moderate new deputy. But the UK and US – previously strong allies of the regime – have failed to give their backing. America has suggested it could withdraw Egypt’s multibillion-dollar aid package if civil liberties are not respected.

The blunt message from Europe will increase the pressure on Mr Mubarak, amid reports that some of his family have already fled Egypt for the UK.

There are questions over whether he still commands the loyalty of the military, who appear unwilling to quell the uprising with force.

The Foreign Office has advised Britons against “all but essential” travel to Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Suez, while extra diplomatic staff have been flown out to help those stranded. An estimated 30,000 UK nationals are in the country, but the majority are in the relatively safe Red Sea resorts.

Protesters in Egypt have been emboldened by the success of the recent uprising in Tunisia which saw President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali ejected after 23 years in power. The pace of events has shocked observers, and led to speculation that other countries such as Yemen could be next to experience popular unrest.

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