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US rebukes Egypt over actions against protestors

Written by: Staff
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WASHINGTON, May 12 (Reuters) The Bush administration has sharply rebuked Egypt for its crackdown on demonstrators and warned of growing impatience in Congress toward a country that is a major recipient of US aid.

In the second public criticism of Egypt this month, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States was deeply troubled by the path of political reform and democracy in Egypt.

Egyptian security beat demonstrators and detained journalists covering a protest in Cairo today in support of judges who face disciplinary action for criticizing election abuses last year.

''Actions such as these are incongruous with the Egyptian government's professed commitment to increase political openness and dialogue within Egyptian society,'' McCormack told reporters yesterday.

He also voiced strong concern the periods of detention of many of those arrested had been extended and that security-related charges were filed against them.

Egypt is the largest recipient of US foreign aid after Israel and Iraq and gets nearly 2 billion dollar a year from Washington in military and economic assistance.

NO AID CUTS McCormack said the Bush administration had no plans to cut back on aid to Egypt because of human rights issues but he cautioned there had been ''a lot of discussion'' in Congress over the amount of U.S. taxpayer funds sent each year to Egypt.

''Foreign governments also need to understand the relationship between the legislative and the executive and the role of the legislative in apportioning funding for these kind of programs,'' said McCormack.

The money is intended to help bolster stability and democracy in Egypt but some lawmakers have questioned the aid's effectiveness.

California Rep. Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, called for an urgent review of military assistance to Egypt.

Lantos pointed to a report by the investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, which said the state and defense departments had not properly assessed how tens of billions of aid to Egypt contributed to US security goals.

''This is a massive military entitlement program on auto-pilot,'' said Lantos.

Last week, the State Department strongly criticized Egypt's extension of emergency law, which gives the government wide powers to curtail civil liberties, despite President Hosni Mubarak's promise to substitute the law with anti-terrorism legislation.

While critical of Egypt, McCormack made very clear the United States viewed Cairo as a close friend and ally, particularly in fighting terrorism.

''That said, when there are issues that arise, like we have seen today, we are going to speak out very plainly about them. And that's what friends do,'' he said.

Ned Walker, a former US ambassador to Egypt, said the United States should make aid to Egypt conditional, rather than an entitlement. ''What is happening today in Egypt is a real step backwards,'' said Walker.

He predicted a strong fight in Congress over aid to Egypt, particularly in light of the growing U.S. budget deficit and competing demands for money to pay for domestic programs.

While Washington needed to be firmer, Walker stressed it also had to stay on very good terms with Egypt, pointing out the United States needed access to the Suez Canal as well as overflight rights, particularly while U.S. troops were in Iraq.

REUTERS PDS PM0329

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