Egypt: EU calls for 'orderly transition'

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Baroness Catherine Ashton
Image caption Baroness Ashton said it was not for the EU to determine what was to happen

The EU has called for an "orderly transition" to a broad-based government in Egypt, in response to the protests against President Hosni Mubarak.

EU foreign ministers in Brussels agreed that democratic reform should pave the way for "fair and free elections".

EU foreign affairs chief Baroness Ashton said talks with the opposition should take place immediately.

"It's absolutely critical that the government engage in open, frank, direct dialogue," she told reporters.

After a seventh day of demonstrations in Egypt, the EU's 27 member states agreed a statement similar to the stance taken by the US, stopping short of demanding Mr Mubarak's resignation or immediate presidential elections.

Diplomats told the BBC News website that they were focused more on Egypt's long term future and that this was not the time to talk about personalities.

Several ministers, including British Foreign Secretary William Hague and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, said it was important that Egypt did not fall into the hands of radicals or extremists.

Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg Foreign Minister, said the EU could not "export revolution" and had to show that it was ready to help organise elections but "not to interfere".

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he believed that only free and fair elections would bring stability to Egypt.