WITH Europe slammed for saying too little, too late on the unrest rolling across its southern flank, leaders of Britain, Germany, France, Spain and Italy independently warned Cairo against further bloodshed as a one-day European Union summit opened last night.

“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 or support it has in the eyes of the western world,” said the British Prime Minister, David Cameron.

“Egypt should be taking steps to show there is a clear, credible transparent path towards transition.”

“Frankly, the steps taken so far haven’t met the aspirations of the Egyptian people.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also demanded “free and peaceful demonstrations” on what she termed “this decisive Friday”.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi joined European calls for a democratic transition that stopped short of demanding President Hosni Mubarak leave office immediately.

European Union leaders are to issue a joint stand on Egypt today.

Draft conclusions of the summit show the EU leaders backing off from supporting the Obama administration’s effort to persuade Mr Mubarak to step down.

They are set to condemn the violence in Egypt “in the strongest terms” and call on all parties to begin an “expeditious and orderly transition.”

The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, said it would be “gratuitous and arrogant” to call for Mr Mubarak’s resignation.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said it was essential that the government and people “move forward together”.

In comparison a statement jointly issued by big EU members Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain said: “That transition process must start now.”

In Washington, officials in President Barack Obama’s administration and Arab diplomats said the US was working on a plan to get Mr Mubarak to quit immediately and hand over power to a transitional government.

Officials told The New York Times the plan for an interim government to be headed by Vice-President Omar Suleiman was aimed at getting backing from the Egyptian military.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor did not confirm the report but said: “The President has said that now is the time to begin a peaceful, orderly and meaningful transition, with credible, inclusive negotiations.

“We have discussed with the Egyptians a variety of different ways to move that process forward, but all of those decisions must be made by the Egyptian people,” Mr Vietor added.

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