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Egypt lifts travel ban on U.S. pro-democracy workers

CAIRO — Egypt lifted a travel ban Wednesday on seven Americans facing trial on charges they worked for pro-democracy groups that fomented unrest with illegal foreign funding. The shift signaled an end to the worst crisis in relations between Egypt and the United States in 30 years.

The clash put $1.5 billion in annual American aid to Egypt at risk, sparking intense behind-the-scenes negotiations between the two countries to find a way out.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States was encouraged by reports the travel ban has been lifted but added she had no confirmation.

Defense lawyer Tharwat Abdel-Shaheed said the seven Americans could leave the country if they post bail set at 2 million Egyptian pounds, about $300,000. They have also signed pledges to attend the next hearing.

There had been signs the case was dissolving under intense U.S. pressure.

The trial opened Sunday and adjourned until April 26. The court's three judges excused themselves Tuesday, citing "uneasiness."

The affair began in December, when Egyptian security raided offices of 10 nonprofit pro-democracy and human rights groups, confiscating documents and equipment. That led to charges that the groups have financed protests in the past year with illegally obtained funds and have failed to register with the government as required. The groups insist their financing is transparent, and all their efforts to register have been stalled by the Egyptian government.

The seven Americans, who include the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, are among 16 Americans on trial in the case. The other Americans charged had already left the country. Besides the Americans, 27 others are on trial. The travel ban on the non-Americans in the case has also been lifted if bail is posted.

The Americans and other defendants faced charges of using illegally obtained funds to incite protests against the military rulers. They worked for a variety of democracy-promoting organizations, including four U.S. groups.

The heavily publicized case of the four U.S. pro-democracy groups has been linked to the turmoil roiling Egypt since an 18-day popular uprising forced Hosni Mubarak to step down in February last year after three decades in power.

May date set for presidential election: Egypt on Wednesday set a May date for its first free presidential election, a much-anticipated vote that would bring to an end the rocky transitional period that followed the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising a year ago.

The ruling military has pledged to turn over power to civilians after the election, ending six decades of authoritarian rule where secretive generals pulled the strings of power from behind the scenes.

The elections begin May 23 and 24. If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the top two finishers would take place June 16 and 17.

Egypt lifts travel ban on U.S. pro-democracy workers 02/29/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 10:49pm]

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