BRUSSELS – British Prime Minister David Cameron said that if the Egyptian regime uses violence on protesters in Cairo on Friday it will lose any remaining international credibility it has left.
The steps the Egyptian government has taken so far have failed to meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people, Cameron said as he arrived in Brussels for a European Union summit that was supposed to be dominated by economic matters.
The EU has been criticized for lagging behind United States President Barack Obama in distancing itself from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Cameron appeared to challenge his fellow European leaders to take a stronger stand.
"Above all, the message is this: if we see on the streets of Cairo today state-sponsored violence or the hiring of thugs to beat up protesters, then Egypt and its regime would lose any remaining credibility and support it has in the eyes of the watching world, including Britain," Cameron said.
Other EU leaders arriving for the summit Friday called for a national dialogue between Egypt's government and the opposition, but shied away from echoing the Obama administration's calls for Mubarak to step down.
The summit is expected to adopt a call for an orderly transition to democratic rule in Egypt, including early elections. It may also ask the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton — who has been criticized for inaction on the issue — to travel to Cairo and press Mubarak to relinquish power peacefully.
As violent protests in Egypt's major cities continued, Ashton said it was essential that the government and people "move forward together."
The EU has had a close relationship with Cairo as part of its partnership with other Mediterranean nations. Critics have said it has been too timid in supporting pro-democracy demonstrations and is trailing behind the U.S. in distancing itself from Mubarak's regime.
Mubarak, in power for nearly three decades, has been under heavy pressure from demonstrators to leave office, and everyday life in Cairo has been turned upside down by Egypt's largest anti-government protests in decades.
In Washington, U.S. officials said Thursday that talks were under way between the Obama administration and top Egyptian officials regarding Mubarak's possible immediate resignation. That would in theory be followed by the formation of a military-backed caretaker government that would prepare the country for free elections later this year.
But speaking to reporters before the European Union summit, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it would be "gratuitous and arrogant" for the EU to follow U.S.' moves.
"We have to be very practical about things," he said. "Look, Obama has influence with Mubarak; that is what (Obama) has to take care of."
In the European Parliament, lawmakers blasted the EU for choosing the "easy option" of simply condemning the violence and calling for restraint.
"They need to be much tougher and make it clear that Europe will not tolerate Mubarak clinging desperately to office," the German Socialist leader in the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said Friday.
"On foreign policy issues, the EU too often behaves like a frightened rabbit in the headlights of a car," he added. "The EU summit should use all its weight to ensure that today is Mubarak's day of departure."
Associated Press writer Raf Casert contributed to this report.