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The European Union’s chief diplomat, Catherine Ashton, has urged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to hold talks immediately with the opposition, and to respond to the aspirations of anti-government protesters.

In Brussels, Ashton said: “I believe it is very important that the European Union stands ready to assist Egypt now and of course into the future. But let me say I deeply regret the loss of life and the high number of injuries. It is essential that everyone, and this includes, of course, especially the police forces, to show restraint so that further violence can be avoided. We urge the authorities to release immediately all peaceful demonstrators who are in detention.”

EU ties with Mubarak have been cordial in the past, exposing the bloc to some criticism with so many of his countrymen crying for him to go. EU foreign ministers have said Egypt needs a peaceful transition to democracy.

Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called for prudence. He said: “Events are happening too fast,” and insisted that the final outcome for Egypt remained unclear.

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