U.N. calls for "maximum restraint" in Egypt amid violence

Egyptians mourn over the bodies of their relatives in the El-Iman mosque at Nasr City, Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

UNITED NATIONS The U.N. Security Council called on the Egyptian government and the Muslim Brotherhood Thursday to exercise "maximum restraint" and end the violence spreading across the country.

Council members also called for national reconciliation and expressed regret at the loss of life.

Argentine Ambassador Maria Cristina Perceval, the council president, expressed the views of the council members after an emergency meeting. It was not a formal statement and represented the lowest-level response by the U.N.'s most powerful body — a reflection of the serious differences among the 15 council members on how to respond to the escalating crisis in Egypt.

Perceval spoke to reporters after the council was briefed by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson on the turmoil in Egypt, sparked by the government's deadly crackdown on supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

"Members first of all expressed their sympathy to the victims and regretted the loss of life. The view of council members is that it's important to end violence in Egypt, that the parties exercise maximum restraint. And there was a common desire on the need to stop violence and to advance national reconciliation," Perceval said.

Russia and China traditionally oppose Security Council involvement in the domestic affairs of a country, partly because of sensitivity over internal disputes in their own countries, including in Chechnya and Tibet.

Diplomats said several council members pressed for adoption of a press statement that condemned the violence but China was opposed. In the end even softer language deploring the violence was dropped, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the consultations were private.

Britain, France and Australia had jointly requested the council meeting. Britain's deputy ambassador Philip Parham said the council needed "to be informed about a situation that is obviously of serious concern."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier accused the West of ignoring the violence and called on the Security Council to meet urgently to discuss the situation.

At least 638 people were confirmed killed and nearly 4,000 wounded in the violence sparked when riot police backed by armored vehicles, snipers and bulldozers smashed two sit-ins in Cairo where Morsi's supporters had been camped out for six weeks to demand his reinstatement. It was the deadliest day by far since the 2011 popular uprising that overthrew autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak and plunged the country into more than two years of instability.

Eliasson told reporters as he left the meeting that his briefing "built" on the statement that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made on Wednesday.

The U.N. chief condemned "in the strongest terms" the violence used by Egyptian security forces to clear demonstrators supporting Morsi and expressed regret that the authorities chose to used force instead of listening to his earlier plea to prevent further loss of life. Ban also urged all Egyptians to concentrate of promoting reconciliation.

Diplomats said Eliasson called the situation in Egypt "extremely volatile."

Perceval reiterated Argentina's condemnation of "the coup d'etat" against Morsi and Wednesday's "brutal repression against popular demonstrations that filled the streets of the main cities of Egypt." Argentina urged authorities to "totally and immediately cease the spiral of violence loosed in recent days against unarmed citizens."

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