Egypt judge delays trial of NGO workers to April

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 08, 2012 6:13 AM
Egypt judge delays trial of NGO workers to April

CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian judge said on Thursday he was delaying until April 10 the trial of civil society activists including 16 Americans accused of receiving illegal foreign funds and pursuing their pro-democracy activities without a license.

The case, which targets groups including the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute, has strained Egypt's U.S. ties and prompted threats from Washington to withdraw $1.3 billion of military aid.

Tension between the long-standing allies abated last week when Egypt lifted a travel ban on foreigners targeted in a judicial probe of the non-governmental organizations, and most of them left the country.

But the charges against the 43 Egyptian and foreign NGO workers still hold. One of the Americans working for NDI, Robert Becker, stayed in Egypt after the travel ban was lifted and was in court on Thursday before Judge Makram Awad.

One lawyer said the case was likely to continue with the missing defendants being tried in absentia.

"This is a serious case that harms Egypt national security interests. We will seek the toughest punishment for the accused," a second lawyer, Magdy Ahmed Refa'i, said.

Egyptian democracy campaigners see the case as evidence that the country's ruling generals are trying to silence their most vocal critics.

But many ordinary Egyptians are angry that the foreigners were allowed to leave before the trial ended, seeing it as a humiliating capitulation to a foreign power.

(Reporting by Marwa Awad; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer)