Accused NGO workers flown from Egypt

Activists charged with fomenting unrest have departed Cairo after Washington paid an estimated $5m in bail.

    The lifting of the travel ban came one day after the judges on the case resigned [AFP]

    A plane carrying activists from the United States and other countries left Egypt a day after a travel ban was lifted, an airport official in Cairo said.

    "They have left," the airport official told the Reuters news agency on Thursday, without giving further details. A US military plane had been sent to Egypt to take them, airport officials had said earlier.

    The seven US democracy workers were facing trial in Egypt on charges of fomenting unrest in the country.

    They were deemed free to leave after the US posted nearly $5m in bail to win their release, Egyptian officials told the AP news agency on Thursday.

    Eight other foreign non-governmental organisation (NGO) workers also left Cairo, officials said.

    Court officials said the US paid bail for the seven Americans and nine other US citizens charged in the case who had already left Egypt.

    Bail was set at $300,000 for each of the 16, or $4.8m. Egypt lifted the travel ban on the seven late Wednesday and set the bail.

    "The assistant to the attorney general, following a request from the investigating judges, has issued an order to lift the ban," a judicial source close to the proceedings told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday.

    The source said the charges had not been dropped against any of those involved, who include 16 US citizens, 16 Egyptians and German, Palestinian, Serbian and Jordanian citizens.

    All three of the judges in the trial resigned from the case on Tuesday, with Mohammed Shoukry, the lead judge in the case, saying the court felt "uneasiness" in handling the case, according to a court official.

    On Thursday, a convoy of white vans carrying the sign of US embassy arrived at Cairo airport carrying the seven Americans, who include the son of Ray LaHood, the US transportation secretary. They had sought refuge at the US embassy, fearing arrest.

    The case has infuriated Washington, which threatened to cut off  $1.5bn in annual aid to Egypt.

    The Americans worked at non-profit groups promoting democracy in Egypt and were charged with stoking anti-government unrest with illegal foreign funding.

    The case sparked intense behind-the-scenes negotiations between the two countries to find a way out.

    'Illegal use of funds'

    Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, had said on Wednesday she expected the row over the activities of non-governmental organisations to be resolved "in the very near future".

    However, the investigation fits into a broader campaign by Egypt's rulers against alleged foreign influence since the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year.

    Rights groups have sharply criticised the investigation into the groups and the charges, saying they are part of an orchestrated effort by Egyptian authorities to silence groups critical of the military rulers.

    "Of course this trial is politicised. We proved during the investigation that we didn't do anything," one of the defendants, Islam Shafiq, told AFP after the trial opened on Sunday.

    Shafiq works as a financial manager with the US-based International Centre for Journalists.

    Egyptian officials have said the trial has nothing to do with the government and is in the judiciary's hands.

    Egyptian officials have blamed continuing unrest in their country on foreign interference they attribute, in part, to the organisations.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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