BRUSSELS – Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi condemned the attack on Libya that killed the American ambassador and vowed Thursday to protect foreign embassies in Cairo, where police were using tear gas to disperse protesters at the U.S. mission.
American missions have been attacked in three Arab nations — Yemen, Egypt and Libya. The spreading violence comes as outrage grows over an obscure movie made in the United States called "Innocence of Muslims" that mocked Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
Speaking during a visit to the European Union in Brussels, Morsi said he had spoken to President Barack Obama and condemned "in the clearest terms" the Tuesday attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.
He also harshly criticized the movie, which came to attention in Egypt after its trailer was dubbed into Arabic and posted on YouTube.
"We condemn strongly ... all those who launch such provocations and who stand behind that hatred," Morsi said, adding that he had asked Obama "to put an end to such behavior."
"But at the same time we say this cannot be taken as a justification for attacking embassies or consulates," he said. "The Egyptian state is responsible for protecting embassies and consulates, and the Egyptian people will not engage in these ... unlawful acts."
Crowds protesting at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo the same day as the Benghazi attack climbed its walls and tore down an American flag, which they replaced briefly with a black, Islamist flag. The protests continued Thursday, with protesters clashing with police near the U.S. mission.
Protesters in Yemen, meanwhile, stormed the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa.
Officials were investigating whether the Libya rampage was a backlash to the video or a plot to coincide with the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Morsi met with EU President Herman Van Rompuy, executive commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, and foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton.
During a joint press conference, Barroso said the EU is prepared to make available €500 million ($645 million) in financial assistance to Egypt to support the consolidation of democracy.
The EU is Egypt's largest trade partner and largest source of foreign investment. The two sides agreed that a joint EU-Egypt task force would meet later this year to further economic cooperation.
The EU already has made available €449 million to Egypt for 2011-2013, Barroso said.
Morsi, who is hoping to carry out structural reforms to overhaul Egypt's ailing economy, is seeking a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, but more could be required.
The two men also urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down in order to end the escalating civil war in that country.
"We are also adamant that Assad should go," Barroso said. "We need a transition to an inclusive democracy."
Morsi interrupted to add that this was "completely agreed upon."