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Americans caught in Egypt-U.S. dispute

CAIRO -- Americans facing trial in Cairo over activities of their pro-democracy groups have been caught in a dispute between the U.S. government and Egypt over aid, a lawyer representing the Americans said yesterday.

In a measure of the depth of the tensions, an Egyptian government delegation abruptly canceled meetings in Washington with U.S. lawmakers set for Monday and yesterday after angry American officials warned the clash could jeopardize around $1.5 billion a year in foreign aid to Egypt.

A senior Egyptian official confirmed that the government has objected for years to the United States directing part of its aid to pro-democracy and human rights groups, calling the practice illegal and acknowledging that a cut in U.S. aid could follow.

The dispute has led to 19 American workers with the groups facing trial and six barred from leaving Egypt. Among the six is Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. A number of Americans have taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said yesterday that he summoned the Egyptian ambassador to protest Cairo's decision to prosecute two Germans in the case.

The affair began with raids by Egyptian security forces on 17 offices of 10 advocacy groups last month that drew denunciations from the United States and other countries. It also reinforced charges by Egyptian protesters that the military rulers who took over a year ago from ousted President Hosni Mubarak are perpetuating his regime's oppressive tactics.

The military rulers charge that the groups fund and support anti-government protests. The military claims that "foreign hands" are behind the opposition to their rule. They frequently depict the protesters as receiving funds from abroad in a plot to destabilize the country.

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