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Top US general meets Egypt's Tantawi amid NGOs row
by Staff Writers
Cairo (AFP) Feb 11, 2012

The US military's top general met Egypt's ruling field marshal on Saturday amid a row between the allies over impending trials of American pro-democracy activists.

The meeting in Cairo had been "long planned," according to General Martin Dempsey's spokesman, but officials were hoping Dempsey would persuade Cairo to back off the planned trials.

Colonel Dave Lapan said the general discussed with Tantawi and his Egyptian counterpart Sami Enan "a wide range of issues related to the long-standing security relationship between our two countries, including the issue involving US NGOs."

But he said he would not "further describe the contents and nature of their private discussions," in a statement emailed to AFP.

Dempsey had planned to hold a round-table discussion with journalists after the meetings, but it was called off with no reason given to reporters.

Egyptian judicial officials have announced plans to put dozens of pro-democracy activists, including 19 Americans, on trial over alleged illegal funding to foreign aid groups.

The move has shaken the Egypt-US alliance that has anchored America's Middle East policy for a generation and helped keep the peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours.

Outraged at the charges, some senior US lawmakers have warned that Washington's aid to Egypt could be jeopardised if the prosecution goes ahead.

The United States currently provides about $1.3 billion a year in aid to Egypt, one of the biggest packages offered to any nation.

Egyptian judges on Wednesday accused domestic and foreign groups, including American ones, of illegally meddling in the country's politics.

Fayza Abul Naga, the international cooperation minister widely seen as the driving force behind the trials, said on Saturday she did "not believe that a side issue such as the issue of civil society groups could affect the future of ties between Egypt and America."

Abul Naga added, in comments published by the official MENA news agency, that the row would not impact a one-billion-dollar loan Egypt had requested from the World Bank.

World Bank chief Robert Zoellick said last week he expected "tensions" as Egypt requests aid from the international lender, which in turn would demand progress on governance and democracy.

"We will want... to make sure it's transparent, that it relates to some of the changes that people were calling for or a broader social accountability. And there'll be tensions with that," he said of the requested loan.

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Egypt-US row over aid workers can be 'resolved': McCain
Washington (AFP) Feb 11, 2012 - Top US Senator John McCain said Saturday that a diplomatic row with Egypt over the planned trial in Cairo of several workers from American pro-democracy groups can be resolved within days.

"I am hopeful that before we get there, we can have the issue resolved. If not, obviously it will be our highest priority," McCain, who said he planned to head to Egypt in the coming week for talks, told Fox News.

"Americans not being able to leave the country that is supposed to be our ally is an important issue. And so we intend to raise it in our meetings," said McCain, referring to workers from the US groups.

Egyptian judicial sources said last Sunday that 44 people, including 19 Americans, would stand trial over the alleged illegal funding of non-government organizations promoting Egypt's fledgling democracy after the overthrow of long time leader Hosni Mubarak.

McCain was one of several US lawmakers on Tuesday who vented their anger over the planned trial, saying Egypt risked a "disastrous" rupture in ties should it go ahead.

The aid workers are accused of "setting up branches of international organizations in Egypt without a license from the Egyptian government" and of "receiving illegal foreign funding."

Cairo prosecutors in December stormed the offices of the US-funded International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House as part of a probe into allegations of illegal foreign funding.

They were among 17 offices of local and international NGOs raided. The crackdown was part of a wider campaign by Egypt's military rulers to silence dissent after months of criticism of its human rights record, analysts said.

Since December, ties between the United States and Egypt's interim military rulers have become strained, and Washington has raised the possibility it could withhold military aid worth $1.3 billion a year.


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UN aims for major cut in peacekeeping bill
United Nations (AFP) Feb 8, 2012
The United Nations hopes to cut one billion dollars off its peacekeeping budget this year as it seeks to close or shrink many missions, a top UN official said Wednesday. With major powers pressing for spending cuts, the East Timor peacekeeping mission is expected to close by the end of 2012 and Haiti, Liberia and possibly Darfur could face reductions, said Herve Ladsous, the head of UN peace ... read more

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