CHILMARK, Massachusetts (Reuters) – President Barack Obama condemned the bloody crackdown in Egypt on Thursday, announcing that joint military exercises next month were canceled and that normal U.S. cooperation could not continue with the country while civilians were being killed.
“The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt’s interim government and security forces,” Obama said on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard where he is on vacation.
“We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest,” he said. At least 525 people have been killed and thousands wounded.
Obama said the United States had informed Egyptian authorities it had canceled a joint military drill named “Bright Star” that had been scheduled for next month.
The drill, dating back to 1981, is seen as a cornerstone of U.S.-Egyptian military relations and began after the Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel.
“While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back,” Obama said.
“The Egyptian people deserve better than what we’ve seen over the last several days. And to the Egyptian people, let me say: the cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop.”
The joint military exercise, held every two years, was canceled in 2011 because of the political turmoil in Egypt following the ouster of longtime autocrat and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak.
On Thursday hundreds of supporters of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood stormed a government building in Cairo and set it ablaze, as fury over a security crackdown on the Islamist movement that killed hundreds of people spilled on to the streets.
Obama said the state of emergency should be lifted in Egypt and a process of national reconciliation started. He noted that the United States did not take sides with any political party in the conflict.