LONDON, Feb. 3 (UPI) -- European leaders Thursday stepped up pressure on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to immediately launch a political transition in Egypt and protect demonstrators.
"We are watching with utmost concern the deteriorating situation in Egypt," the leaders of Germany, Britain, France, Spain and Italy said in a statement released Thursday.
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the prime minister of Spain and Italy, Jose Luis Zapatero and Silvio Berlusconi called on Egyptian authorities to protect protesters and journalists and immediately launch a political transition toward more democracy.
"The Egyptian people must be able to exercise freely their right to peaceful assembly, and enjoy the full protection of the security forces," the statement said. "We condemn all those who use or encourage violence, which will only aggravate the political crisis in Egypt. Only a quick and orderly transition to a broad-based government will make it possible to overcome the challenges Egypt is now facing.
The transition process, the statement added, "must start now."
At least eight people have been killed over the past two days and several hundred injured as protests against the regime turned ugly when Mubarak supporters on Wednesday started attacking demonstrators. The military, hoped to be an honest broker between both sides, failed to quell the violence.
Fighting continued Thursday but it became less fierce as the military stepped up its efforts to keep both sides from clashing.
Europe has been watching the events in Egypt with increasing concern.
Western leaders want more democracy for the African country but are worried that Egypt could descend into chaos and turn into a security threat without a government -- or the wrong one.
That's why European officials had in the past called for restraint and more reforms but stopped short of urging Mubarak to step down.
The violent clashes between pro- and anti-Mubarak protesters in Cairo, which continued for a second day Thursday, seem to have been a watershed point.
Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, Thursday said Europe was trying to defuse the situation.
"Last night we were sending messages to the Egyptian authorities in phone calls and other messages, saying 'look, you have to get the army in to protect the people, you have to make sure that we've got ambulances able to get in and out of the square,'" she told Britain's Sky News television. "The scenes last night were extremely disturbing."
Europe has now decided to up the pressure on Mubarak to step down now and not in September, as he has pledged during Wednesday's TV address.