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Saudi crown prince lands in Egypt on first public trip

Reuters

CAIRO (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's Mohammed Bin Salman arrived in Egypt on Sunday to meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on his first public trip abroad since he became crown prince last year and purged the kingdom's political and economic elite.

His arrival was confirmed by airport sources and the head of his private office.

The Saudi prince will head for Britain on March 7 following his three-day visit to Cairo and then the United States, Riyadh's closest Western ally, later in the month.

Also on Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump called Sisi to discuss with him "regional issues" and "ways of combating terrorism", a statement from the Egyptian presidency said.

Egypt and Saudi have strengthened ties since Sisi took power after ousting the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

Cairo supports Riyadh in its fight against Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen, and last year joined a Saudi-led boycott of Gulf state Qatar and agreed to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi despite widespread criticism at home.

The day before Prince Mohammed's visit to Cairo, Egypt's top court dismissed all outstanding legal challenges to a deal transferring two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

The plan to cede the islands to Riyadh, which has given billions of dollars in aid to Egypt, was announced in 2016 and became mired in political protests and court challenges.

The Saudi prince is expected to sign a number of agreements, Saudi state television said without giving further details.

The visit also comes three weeks ahead of an election where general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seeks a second term and as Egyptian forces fight to crush Islamic State militants in the Sinai Peninsula.

Sisi is guaranteed a win in a vote where rights groups and critics say Egyptian authorities have locked up opponents or forced them to halt election campaigns.

As Egypt tries to keep a lid on any internal unrest, it has sided firmly with Saudi Arabia on key foreign policy issues including the face-off between the Sunni kingdom and its Shi'ite arch-foe Iran.

Egypt eagerly joined the trade and diplomatic boycott of Qatar, whose government and media it accuses of supported the now banned Muslim Brotherhood, hundreds of whose members Cairo has imprisoned and sentenced to death.

(Reporting by Cairo bureau; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)