Brussels/Luxembourg (dpa) - Britain should launch its EU exit negotiations as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary uncertainty, top officials and ministers in the bloc said Friday, following the country's vote in favour of leaving the European Union.

British Prime Minister David Cameron had indicated just hours earlier that London is unlikely to trigger the EU treaty article which will start the exit negotiations until October.

But four top EU officials called in a joint statement for London to "give effect to this decision of the British people as soon as possible, however painful that process may be."

Almost 52 per cent of British voters opted for leaving the EU in a referendum on Thursday, putting the country on course to become the first to depart the 28-member bloc.

"Any delay would unnecessarily prolong uncertainty," EU President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Parliament President Martin Schulz and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte - whose country currently holds the EU's presidency, said in the statement.

That sentiment was also expressed by foreign ministers who gathered in Luxembourg on Friday afternoon to draw the first conclusion from the referendum and prepare a discussion by EU leaders next week.

"There is urgency, there is no time to lose. Any period of uncertainty would be harmful," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said, adding that the "cohesion and stability" of Europe and Britain are at stake.

"I do believe that the politicians in Britain who voted for Leave need to take on the responsibility now. They got the result they wanted, now they have to live up to it," Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen added.

"I'm convinced that we need to hurry up," Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said, noting that the bloc has other pressing issues to deal with, such as its migration crisis.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics also pointed to the jitters on financial markets and the fact that many Europeans living in Britain and Britons living in the EU are waiting to learn their fate.

"The sooner we start with negotiations, the better," he said.

But others were less worried about the prospect of waiting months for the talks to start.

"You cannot take expeditiously decisions of this nature. It needs time," Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said. "It's going to be a long process anyhow."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also warned against making "fast and easy decisions, which would only serve to further divide Europe."

Many EU leaders, while expressing disappointment about the outcome of the referendum, also stressed the need to learn lessons and respond to demands of European citizens - not least to avoid a domino effect of further exit votes.

"The British referendum shall be either an alarm awakening the sleepwalker heading towards the cliff or the beginning of a very dangerous and slippery course for our peoples," Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said. "We need an immediate change of course."

"We have to change [the EU] to make it more human and more just. But Europe is our home, it is our future," Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi wrote on Twitter and Facebook.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven called the vote a "wake-up call for Europe," while Tusk said that the bloc's leaders should "start a wider reflection on the future of our union."

"Brexit: respect, regret, re-engage," Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite tweeted.

"To earn the trust of citizens, the EU has to focus on essential questions and to be able to carry out reforms," Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila said in a statement.

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.