US senator John McCain has said that Egypt's military rulers were working "diligently" to resolve a bitter row with Washington over alleged illicit funding of NGOs for which American and other activists are due to stand trial.
Egypt's military ruler Field Marshal Hussein "Tantawi has assured us they are working very diligently to resolve the NGO issue," he told a news conference on Monday in Cairo during a visit aimed at defusing the row between the traditional allies.
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The delegation of five US senators, headed by McCain, has met Tantawi, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian Parlamentarians and businessmen.
"We approach the issue of the NGOs with some guarded optimism that this issue will be resolved fairly soon," McCain said, adding that the visiting US delegation was "not making threats" but seeking "mutuality of interests."
The trial of 43 activists, including 19 Americans working for local and foreign NGOs operating in Egypt, is due to begin on Sunday, according to Egyptian judicial sources.
The defendants are charged with "establishing unlicenced chapters of international organisations and accepting foreign funding to finance these groups in a manner that breached the Egyptian state's sovereignty," the official MENA news agency reported.
Apart from Americans, the accused include Serbs, Norwegians, Germans, Egyptians, Palestinians and Jordanians.
Among the foreign NGOs targeted are the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the the International Republican Institute (IRI), the US International Centre for Journalists and Freedom House, all from the United States.
The most prominent suspect, Sam LaHood, is the son of US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and heads the Egyptian chapter of the IRI.
Fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who was accompanying McCain, said the crackdown on the NGOs accused of receiving illegal foreign aid was "politically motivated."
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"The person who brought this forward, I think, has an agenda that is not helpful," Graham said, apparently referring to Fayza Abul Naga, the Egyptian international cooperation minister, widely seen as the driving force behind the probe.
Abul Naga has told investigating judges that Washington funded the NGOs to cause "chaos" in Egypt.
In the list of charges, the five NGOs are accused of receiving roughly $48 million in illegal funds.
Prosecutors, backed by police, raided the groups' offices in December, confiscating their equipment and sealing their doors.
Washington has already hinted that the crackdown could harm its long-standing ties with the Egyptian government.
Death penalty sought
Separately, the chief prosecutor in the trial of ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak said in his closing remarks that the former president should be given the death penalty for the killings of protesters in last year's uprising.
Mustafa Suleiman said Mubarak, who ruled the Arab world's most populous country for nearly 30 years, clearly authorised use of live ammunition and a shoot-to-kill policy against peaceful protesters.
According to government estimates, around 850 were killed in the crackdown from January. 25 to Feburary. 11, 2011.
For this, Suleiman told the presiding judges, Mubarak and five co-defendants, including his longtime interior minister Habib al-Adly and four former top security officers, should receive the maximum sentence.
"This is not a case about the killing of one or ten or 20 civilians, but a case of an entire nation," he said.