Egypt new govt gets to work as Morsi loyalists rally

Egypt's new government got down to work Wednesday faced with a raft of daunting challenges including restoring security, as angry loyalists of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi rallied against the caretaker administration.

More than 1,000 demonstrators gathered just a few hundred metres (yards) from the cabinet headquarters, near Cairo's Tahrir Square, shouting anti-government slogans and waving banners, an AFP photographer reported.

The protests were expected to reach their peak after the iftar evening meal when Muslims break their Ramadan fast.

The demonstration came as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton began a series of meetings in Cairo with Egypt's new leaders, including interim President Adly Mansour and vice president Mohamed ElBaradei.

Spokesman Michael Mann described Ashton's meeting with Mansour as "good and useful".

In the talks, Ashton said the EU wanted "a quick return to the democratic process, and a full inclusive process," Mann told AFP.

Ashton had also stressed the need to get the economy going "as quickly as possible."

Diplomatic sources said she was expected to meet members of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party later on Wednesday.

The Brotherhood, the influential movement from which Morsi hails, along with the ultra-conservative Al-Nur party, has refused to take part in the new administration.

Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad rejected as illegitimate the 34-member cabinet sworn in on Tuesday, in which army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the general behind the popularly backed coup that overthrew Morsi on July 3, was appointed first deputy prime minister and minister of defence.

"We don't recognise its legitimacy or its authority," he told AFP.

Political analyst Samer Shehata said among the pressing issues for the new government are Egypt's budget deficit, reforming the interior ministry, establishing the rule of law and restoring security in Sinai.

The restive peninsula has suffered a wave of attacks, with six soldiers and two civilians wounded late on Tuesday when militants fired at an army checkpoint in the border town of Rafah, according to security sources.

"How to deal with the protesters on the street at the moment is another very serious issue," said Shehata.

The swearing-in ceremony of Egypt's caretaker government, which includes three women and three Coptic Christians, took place just hours after deadly overnight clashes between the security forces and Morsi's supporters in Cairo.

Officials said seven people were killed and 261 wounded in the clashes.

The latest deaths bring to more than 100 the number of people killed, according to an AFP tally, since the coup that plunged Egypt into violence.

Hundreds of protesters were also arrested, bringing to more than 1,000 the number of Morsi supporters detained in Cairo alone since the military coup.

The Brotherhood's deputy leader Khairat El-Shater and three other senior Islamists have been remanded in custody for 15 days, judicial sources said Wednesday.

Many of those detained have since been released, but rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday hundreds had been denied their legal rights, with some beaten upon arrest, subjected to electric shocks or hit with rifle butts.

"At this time of extreme polarisation and division, it is more important than ever that the office of the public prosecutor demonstrates that it's truly independent and not politicised," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's deputy regional director.

Ashton's visit follows that on Monday of US envoy William Burns, the most senior American official to visit since the July 3 coup.

The United States has condemned the violence which has rocked Egypt since the overthrow of Morsi. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said it made the transition "much more difficult," but he insisted Washington was not taking sides.

Washington has refrained from saying Morsi was the victim of a coup, which would legally require a freeze on some $1.5 billion in US military and economic assistance to Cairo.

During his single year of turbulent rule, Morsi was accused of concentrating power in Brotherhood hands, sending the economy into freefall and failing to protect minorities.

But the Islamist leader's supporters say his overthrow was an affront to democracy.

mon-tl-sma/bpz