Egypt expects IMF deal before polls start in April: minister

CAIRO Sun Mar 3, 2013 8:10am EST

Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi (R) and Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) at the presidential palace in Cairo March 3, 2013. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi (R) and Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) at the presidential palace in Cairo March 3, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt expects to seal a long-delayed $4.8 billion loan deal before parliamentary elections start next month, the finance minister said on Sunday, as the country runs dangerously low on foreign currency reserves and the budget deficit soars.

The deal was agreed in principle last November but put on hold at Cairo's request following unrest on Egyptian streets. Egypt has sent a reform plan to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but no dates have yet been set for the resumption of talks.

"We expect that an agreement will happen before the elections," Finance Minister Al-Mursi Al-Sayed Hegazy told reporters. "I expect and am hopeful this deal can be made before the elections."

Voting in the four-round process begins on April 22.

Egypt is mired in economic and political crisis two years after the fall of Hosni Mubarak. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Cairo on Saturday it was "paramount, essential, urgent" that the economy get back on its feet, adding that an IMF deal needed to be reached.

Kerry met Islamist President Mohamed Mursi on Sunday but no details were released on what they discussed.

Egypt's foreign currency reserves have fallen to not much more than a third of their level before the 2011 overthrow of Mubarak.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Writing by David Stamp; Editing by David Holmes)

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