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As the Pentagon prepares to host senior Egyptian military officials for talks this week, the US Defense Department on Wednesday said that defense officials were closely watching the popular protests that had swept Egypt in recent days, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said on Wednesday.
Morrell said that the US Defense Department was "monitoring closely" events in Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon "as they evolve."
“These are...separate, fast-moving situations that the secretary and others here in this department, and...others throughout the government, are monitoring closely as they evolve,” Morrell told Pentagon reporters in a briefing on Wednesday. “Let me remind you, we have a longstanding military-to-military relationship with Egypt.”
For the third consecutive day, thousands of Egyptians demonstrated across Egypt on Thursday, chanting anti-government slogans and calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in office since 1981.
Egyptian police fought protesters in two cities in eastern Egypt on Thursday, while reform campaigner Mohamed ElBaradei headed back to the country to join the demonstrators.
Activists and opposition groups, meanwhile, have called for more protests on Friday. A Facebook page dedicated to the protests has attracted more than 77,000 online supporters within the last 24 hours.
Earlier, the White House had urged the Egyptian government to refrain from violence.
Since its 1979 peace deal with Israel, Egypt has become the biggest recipient of US military aid after Tel Aviv, receiving nearly $36 billion in military assistance in annual installments of $1.3 billion.
The Pentagon is hosting senior Egyptian military leaders for annual bilateral defense talks, Morrell said.
“This week we are hosting senior Egyptian military leaders at the Pentagon for our annual bilateral defense talks, referred to by the Military Cooperation Committee, which is chaired jointly by Assistant Secretary of Defense Sandy Vershbow and Lieutenant General Sami Anan, the chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces,” Morrell added.
“That's just one example of how engaged we are with the Egyptians, even as these developments have taken place on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere,” he said.