Egypt: Transition must be rapid and credible, says PM

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Media captionUK Prime Minister David Cameron: "The violence needs to stop"

Egypt must make a transition to democracy that is "rapid and credible and needs to start now", Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

Public pressure continues on President Hosni Mubarak to end his 30-year rule immediately rather than wait till September elections.

Mr Cameron described clashes in central Cairo as "despicable", saying the violence needed to stop.

The Foreign Office has chartered a plane to bring home Britons from Cairo.

Seats on the flight, which is due to depart from Cairo on Thursday afternoon, will cost about the same as a commercial flight - £300.

It is not intended to replace commercial flights, and people with booked seats on other flights are advised not to cancel their bookings.

Downing Street defended the ticket price, saying the government did not want to undermine commercial flights.

"It's very important that we maintain commercial flights in and out of Egypt, so we don't want to be in a position where we are providing flights at no cost, because that would undercut commercial airlines," a spokesman said.

The spokesman said the price would not cover the full costs "by any means" and added: "We have arrangements in place to make sure that people are not asked to part with that £300 upfront if they can't do that."

Other countries, including the US and Canada, are also asking citizens to pay for government-chartered flights out of Egypt.

Foreign Office travel advice, which has remained the same all week as protests continued in Cairo and other cities, has warned against all non-essential travel to Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Luxor.

The travel advice also recommended that British nationals without a "pressing need" to be in Cairo, Alexandria or Suez should leave.

About 3,000 Britons were in the capital, and 300 in Alexandria, while 30,000 were in Red Sea resorts which remained "calm", Mr Cameron said.

He said 1,000 Britons had left the country in the past 48 hours.

Appearing outside Downing Street with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as clashes erupted in Cairo's Tahrir Square, Mr Cameron said: "We have been watching the events in Cairo with grave concern and completely condemn the violence that is taking place.

Image caption Supporters and opponents of Hosni Mubarak clashed in central Cairo

"If it turns out that the regime in any way has been sponsoring or tolerating this violence, that would be completely and utterly unacceptable.

"These are despicable scenes we are seeing and they should not be repeated."

Echoing comments he made in the House of Commons earlier on Wednesday, he said: "They underline the need for political reform, and frankly, for that political reform to be accelerated and to happen quickly.

"We need to see a clear road map for that political reform so that people in Egypt can have confidence that their aspirations for a more democratic future with greater rights is met."

'Reform, not repression'

On Tuesday, Mr Mubarak promised to leave at the next polls, and pledged constitutional reform, saying he would devote his remaining time in power to ensuring a peaceful transition to his successor.

The US said an orderly transition "must begin now".

Mr Cameron told MPs: "The government takes a very strong view that political reform is what is required, not repression."

He added: "We have made that clear in all the calls I have made, including to President Mubarak and, yesterday, the Egyptian prime minister.

"The key question is: 'Have they done enough?'

"President Mubarak says he is going and we respect that. But what matters is not just the orderly transition but also that it is urgent; it is credible; it starts now.

"And the more they can do with a timetable to convince people it's true, the more the country can settle down to a stable and more democratic future."

On Wednesday thousands of Mr Mubarak's supporters surged into Cairo's Tahrir Square, dismantling barricades set up by anti-Mubarak groups.

It followed a call by the army for protesters to return home after nine days of anti-government demonstrations.

Stability plea

Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "Far from indicating support for extremism, the people on the streets of Egypt are actually demanding some very basic things: jobs, freedom of speech and the right to choose by whom they are governed."

He said democracy represented the "best route to stability" in Egypt.

Mr Cameron agreed, saying it was in the best interests of Britain to have a stable Middle East: "We should be clear: we stand with those, in this country, who want freedom, who want democracy and rights the world over.

"You can't watch the scenes in Cairo without finding it incredibly moving, about people wanting to have those aspirations in Egypt as we have them in our country."

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