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The European Union decided Wednesday to suspend exports of weapons and some goods to Egypt — a move meant to block the transfer of materials that could be used for internal repression amid a military crackdown on supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi.
The measure came as an Egyptian court ordered the release of former president Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years before resigning in 2011 after nationwide protests forced him to step down.
The EU suspension did not halt aid programs for fear of hurting ordinary Egyptians already hit hard.
Instead, the 28 foreign ministers called on Egypt’s military authorities and supporters of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement to resume negotiations to avoid further bloodshed.
"It was decided ... to suspend all arms deliveries that can be used internally," said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius following an emergency meeting in Brussels. "We have decided to maintain our aid for the Egyptian population because it already suffers enormously."
The violent crackdown by security forces on Morsi's supporters has killed hundreds of people since last week. The Anti-Coup Alliance, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, has called for "Friday of Martyrs" protests against the country's army takeover, which could lead to further unrest with security forces.
"We do believe that the recent operations of the security forces have been disproportionate, and we're worried about the resulting alarming number of people that have been killed," said the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.
"We call on all sides to stop the cycle of violence, to stop the provocations, to stop the hate speech," she said, adding that the EU "strongly condemns" the recent violence.
While the EU lacks the military muscle and longstanding ties that give the United States influence in dealing with Cairo, the EU is Egypt's biggest trading partner and a major source of aid, loans and tourists. The organization and its member states last year pledged a combined 5 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in loans and aid for Egypt.
The United States so far has canceled joint military exercises and delayed the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets in response to the violence, but it is still weighing whether to suspend some of its annual $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt.
Egypt, the most populous nation in the Arab world, is a longtime U.S. ally and has been the bedrock of Washington's Middle East policy, not least because of its peace treaty with Israel. It also controls the Suez Canal, an important trade route, and has so far granted the United States fast passage through the canal to deploy carrier groups bound for the Gulf.
EU threats to cut some aid may not frighten Egypt's leadership since Saudi Arabia, a longtime critic of the Muslim Brotherhood, has pledged to plug any shortfall. Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf nations, including Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, have so far promised $12 billion in new aid.
An Egyptian court, meanwhile, ordered the release of Mubarak, 85, pending investigations on corruption charges.
The general prosecutor has at least 48 hours to appeal the judge's order. If an appeal is made, the process can take up to 30 days, during which time Mubarak would remain in prison. A source told Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh that the prosecution will not appeal.
Mubarak has already served the maximum two-year sentence in pre-trial detention. If the case is brought to trial, the judge has the authority to remand him.
The corruption charges implicate Mubarak, his family and state officials who allegedly received gifts from board directors of Al-Ahram newspaper (state owned daily newspaper) equivalent to more than $11 million. Mubarak allegedly repaid the value of the gifts, raising the possibility that the charges will be dropped.
If the former strongman walks free, it will likely fuel further unrest roiling the country after the autocratic leader's successor Morsi was removed in a military coup last month.
Ehab Zahriyeh contributed to this report. Al Jazeera and wire services
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