European Union leaders are gathering in Brussels for an informal one-day summit expected to discuss the Egypt crisis and approve a package of measures to support the common currency, the euro.
According to a draft statement, EU leaders are expected to "deplore the degradation" of the situation in Egypt and call for "substantial democratic reform with full respect to human rights and fundamental freedoms, and...free and fair elections."
EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton today said that a start to dialogue between Egypt's authorities and the opposition was "absolutely essential."
Speaking as protesters gathered in Cairo to force President Hosni Mubarak to step down, Ashton said the EU wanted to see the transition process move ahead now that Mubarak had pledged not to run for election again.
"We've been very clear in everything we said. It's for the Egyptian people and the Egyptian government to move forward together," she said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today that Egyptian security authorities must guarantee "free and peaceful" protests, as pro-democracy activists gather in Cairo.
EU leaders are also set to criticize last year's crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Belarus, and warn that the bloc is "ready to consider" expanding its sanctions against the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka if necessary.
compiled from agency reports