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updated: 3/2/2013 10:34 AM

Kerry: Egyptians need to find political consensus

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Associated Press

CAIRO -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says bickering Egyptian government and opposition leaders need to reach a political consensus to help their country emerge from an economic crisis.

Kerry arrived in Cairo on Saturday for meetings with business people, opposition figures and the foreign minister. Talks with President Mohammed Morsi were set for Sunday.

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U.S. officials accompanying Kerry on his first overseas trip as a member of President Barack Obama's Cabinet said Kerry was particularly concerned that Egypt undertake the reforms necessary to qualify for a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan package. Steps could include increasing tax collections and curbing energy subsidies.

Agreement with the IMF, contingent on ending the political chaos that has ensued since Morsi's election, would unlock significant U.S. assistance, including portions of Obama's $1 billion pledge last April.

Kerry planned to press all sides to come to a basic agreement on Egypt's direction ahead of parliamentary elections that begin next month.

Liberal and secular Egyptians have complained that Washington is siding with Morsi's ruling Muslim Brotherhood.

The main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, has said it would boycott the upcoming elections unless parts of a new constitution are amended, police stop using excessive force against protesters and if an inclusive government of the Christian minority, women, and liberals is formed.

They say now is not the time for elections that will further polarize the country while violent clashes continue to take place between protesters and security forces, further shaking the faltering economy.

They accuse Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood of dominating power in Egypt, effectively stepping in to the same role as ousted President Hosni Mubarak and failing to carry out reforms while also seeking to instill a more religiously conservative system.

Morsi's administration and the Brotherhood say their opponents, who have trailed significantly behind Islamists in all elections since the uprising, are running away from the challenge of the ballot box and are trying to overturn democratic gains.

Egypt has been locked in political crisis for months amid successive waves of protests against Morsi that have turned into deadly clashes and rioting.

As Kerry was set to meet with a number of opposition figures, including some who have joined the boycott, activists in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura say a 14-year-old protester was killed when an armored police vehicle crushed him to death during violent anti-Morsi protests before dawn on Saturday.

In the restive Suez Canal city of Port Said, a police vehicle ran over five people Saturday after protesters marching along a main street refused to allow the car through.

Kerry's visit to Egypt is the sixth leg of a nine-nation trip through Europe and the Middle East.

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