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20.02.2012 Egypt

US senator McCain in Cairo amid NGOs row

An official picture of US Senator John McCain (left) meeting Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi today.  By - (AFP)
LISTEN FEB 20, 2012
An official picture of US Senator John McCain (left) meeting Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi today. By - (AFP)

CAIRO (AFP) - Top US Senator John McCain was in Cairo Monday for talks with Egyptian officials amid an acrid row between the allies over Egypt's plans to try American and other activists for illicit foreign funding.

McCain met with military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the official MENA news agency reported, a week before Egypt is to try 43 suspects, including Americans, in a crackdown on NGOs accused of receiving illegal foreign aid.

Several of the American suspects have sought refuge in their embassy in Cairo as Washington hinted that the crackdown could harm its longstanding ties with the Egyptian government.

But on Saturday, McCain said the row between Cairo and Washington could be resolved.

"I am hopeful that before we get there, we can have the issue resolved. If not, obviously it will be our highest priority," McCain 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

The main suspect, Sam LaHood, is the son of US transportation secretary Ray LaHood and heads the Egyptian chapter of the International Republican Institute.

The other foreign NGOs targeted are the National Democratic Institute, the US International Centre for Journalists and Freedom House, all from the United States, and the German Konrad-Adenauer Foundation.

In the list of charges, the five groups are accused of receiving roughly $48 million (36.5 million euros) in illegal funds.

Prosecutors, backed by police, raided the groups' offices in December, confiscating their equipment and sealing their doors.

Last week, 29 Egyptian rights groups slammed the NGO trials as politically motivated and accused the authorities of intentionally misleading the public to retain power.

US lawmakers from both parties have stepped up their warnings that Egypt's crackdown will force a review of the $1.3 billion in US military aid to the longtime Middle Eastern ally if the crisis is not quickly resolved.

"I truly believe we are approaching a precipice beyond which our bilateral relations could suffer permanent damage," Democratic Representative Gary Ackerman said last week.

Fayza Abul Naga, the Egyptian international cooperation minister widely seen as the driving force behind the probe, told investigating judges Washington funded them to cause "chaos" in Egypt.

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