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Kerry in Egypt to press for political consensus

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo on Saturday to push for a way out of Egypt's violence-wracked political impasse, underlining the need for a consensus to overcome a crippling economic crisis.

As Kerry arrived from Turkey, protesters torched a police station in the canal city of Port Said, reflecting the size of the task facing the secretary of state in Egypt, which has been rocked by months of unrest.

The interior ministry said about 500 protesters threw stones and petrol bombs at the police station, setting it on fire, and then blocked fire engines from approaching the blaze.

Kerry is due to hold talks with Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, as well as political parties, business leaders and civil society groups during a two-day visit that is part of a world tour.

"He is working to touch base with the government, with the military, with people involved in the new Egypt: the political leaders, NGO leaders, the business people," a US State Department official said.

Kerry went into talks with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi before a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, Mohammed Kamel Amr, set for the evening.

Egypt has been deeply divided since Morsi, elected in June as part of the transition that followed Hosni Mubarak's ouster in early 2011, issued a decree in November expanding his powers and paving the way for the adoption of an Islamist-drafted constitution.

Morsi rescinded the decree under intense pressure, but the political turmoil has fueled weeks of unrest and clashes that have left dozens dead, with protesters denouncing the president for failing to address political and economic concerns.

During the visit, Kerry will stress the "importance of building consensus," a US State Department official said, after a call by the main opposition coalition to boycott upcoming parliamentary elections.

Kerry will "not tell them what to do," the official said.

He will emphasize that "if they want to engage, if they want to ensure that their views are taken into account, the only way to do that is to participate.

"They can't sit aside and just assume that some how by magic all of this is going to happen. They have got to participate," the official added.

But two leading opposition figures have refused to engage with Kerry.

Mohamed ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahi, of the National Salvation Front (NSF) coalition, said they would not meet him after Washington called for them to reconsider a boycott of next month's elections.

A political consensus would pave the way for a crucial loan from the International Monetary Fund, which in turn will unlock several pledges of aid for Egypt's battered economy.

Egyptian officials have said they will continue talks with the IMF on a much needed $4.8 billion loan, which has been delayed amid political unrest and might possibly be signed after a parliament is in place in July.

"It will be important for the government to make an agreement with the IMF not only to bring in the IMF money... but also to unlock the other money that comes from the US, the EU, from the Arab states and from private investments," the State Department official said.

"It requires an IMF deal."

In order for there to be an agreement "there has to be basic political agreement among all the various players in Egypt" as well as "basic economic consensus on reforms to support the IMF deal."

Morsi has called for staggered parliamentary elections to start on April 22. The NSF, which groups mainly liberal and leftist parties and movements, said it would boycott the polls, expressing doubts over their transparency.

The opposition, less organised than the Muslim Brotherhood, insists the president appoint a new government before the election. The presidency says the new parliament should have the right to appoint the cabinet.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130302/kerry-egypt-press-political-consensus-0