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Violence in Egypt: President Obama cancels military exercise, calls for calm

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CHILMARK, Mass. (AP) - President Barack Obama on Thursday canceled joint U.S.-Egypt military exercises, saying America's traditional cooperation with Egypt "cannot continue as usual" while violence and instability deepen in the strategically important nation.

More than 520 people have been killed in more than a day of fierce fighting. Photo: Associated Press

It's unclear whether scrapping the Bright Star exercise will have any impact in stopping the clashes between Egypt's military-backed interim government and supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. And Obama gave no indication that the U.S. planned to cut off its $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt.

Speaking from his vacation home on Martha's Vineyard, Obama said the U.S. wants democracy in Egypt to succeed. But he said achieving that outcome is not the responsibility of the United States.

"America cannot determine the future of Egypt," Obama said. "That's a task for the Egyptian people. We don't take sides with any particular party or political figure."

More than 500 people have died in Egypt since Wednesday in clashes between the interim government and Morsi's supporters. The government has declared a nationwide state of emergency and a nighttime curfew.

"Our traditional cooperation with Egypt cannot continue when civilians are being killed in the streets," President Obama said.

The Bright Star exercises are a multi-national effort designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships and improve readiness between U.S., Egyptian and other coalition forces. The air, ground and naval exercises were scheduled to start in mid-September and last about three weeks.

For decades, Bright Star has been a centerpiece of the military relationship between the U.S. and Egypt. However, the maneuvers haven't been held since 2009 as Egypt grappled with the fallout from the revolution that ousted its longtime autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak.

Administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, have condemned the clashes between Egypt's military-backed interim government and supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. But the U.S. has thus far avoided any shifts in its policy toward Egypt, with officials continuing to refrain from calling Morsi's ouster a coup. Taking that step would require the U.S. to cut off $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt.

However, officials are considering scrapping joint U.S.-Egypt military exercises scheduled for next month. The Bright Star exercise has been a centerpiece of the two countries' military relations for decades.

More than 500 people have died in Egypt since Wednesday in clashes between the military-backed interim government and Morsi's supporters. The violence prompted the government to declare a nationwide state of emergency and a nighttime curfew.

Egyptian Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-reform leader in the interim government, also resigned Wednesday in protest over the assaults as the military-backed leadership imposed a monthlong state of emergency and nighttime curfew.

With Obama on vacation, Kerry handled the administration's initial response Wednesday, declaring the violence "deplorable."

"It's a serious blow to reconciliation and the Egyptian people's hopes for a transition toward democracy and inclusion," he told reporters during a surprise appearance at the White House.

It's unclear whether canceling the Bright Star military exercise or taking other similar punitive actions would push Egypt's interim government to end its crackdown on Morsi supporters.

Bright Star usually is held every other year, but the 2011 maneuvers were canceled following the revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in January. This year's exercise is tentatively planned to begin in mid-September.

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