BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union said on Friday police raids of pro-democracy and human rights groups' offices in Egypt amounted to an "open demonstration of force" and urged the authorities to support civil society.
Egyptian prosecutors and police raided the offices of 17 groups on Thursday, in what the official MENA news agency said was an investigation into foreign funding. The move drew protests from the United States.
"This open demonstration of force against civil society organizations is particularly worrying as it comes in the midst of Egypt's transition towards democracy," an EU foreign policy spokesman, Michael Mann, said.
He said the bloc's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, had called on Egyptian authorities to "allow civil society organizations to continue their work in support of Egypt's transition" following the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak in February.
However, the EU stopped short of threatening to withhold aid to Egypt, in contrast to the Unites States which hinted on Thursday that it could review its $1.3 billion in annual military aid.
Among groups targeted were the local offices of the U.S.-based International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a security source and employees at the organizations said.
Since Mubarak was toppled, the EU has offered Egyptian authorities aid worth 132 million euros ($170 million) for projects supporting growth, trade, agriculture and Cairo infrastructure in 2011, as well 95 million euros ($123 million) worth of funds for 2012.
($1 = 0.774 Euros)
(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak. Editing by Sebastian Moffett and Alessandra Rizzo)