Last Updated: Sat Dec 31, 2011 00:51 am (KSA) 21:51 pm (GMT)

Panetta calls Egypt’s military chief over NGOs; EU says raids ‘demonstration of force’

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expressed his deep concern about the Egyptian raids on tights groups. (Reuters)
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expressed his deep concern about the Egyptian raids on tights groups. (Reuters)

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday conveyed his “deep concern” to Egypt’s military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi over police raids on rights groups, the Pentagon said.

In a phone call to Tantawi that underscored Washington’s dismay over the issue, Panetta also thanked the military chief for his “prompt decision to halt the raids,” press secretary George Little said in a statement.

“The Secretary expressed his deep concern about the raids that took place on Dec. 29 on the offices of American and other NGOs,” Little said.

“He also conveyed his appreciation for Field Marshal Tantawi’s prompt decision to halt the raids, and to take steps that will make it easier for NGOs to operate in Egypt,” the statement said.

Panetta stressed that it was “critical for Egypt to continue on the path to democratic transition” after two rounds of parliamentary elections, it said.

The Pentagon chief also reaffirmed the importance of U.S. security ties with Egypt, which receives more than one billion dollars in annual aid from the United States.

Earlier on Friday, a senior U.S. official said Egypt has assured the United States that it will stop raids on U.S. and other pro-democracy groups and that it will return confiscated property. The European Union, meanwhile, described the raids as an “open demonstration of force.”

The U.S. ambassador to Cairo, Anne Patterson, received the assurances from Egyptian leaders, including those from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces who have run Egypt since president Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February, the official said, according to AFP.

The official said Patterson spoke with the leaders about the raids carried out Thursday against human rights and pro-democracy groups, including the U.S. National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute and Freedom House.

“The ambassador has sought and received Egyptian leadership assurances that the raids will cease and property will be returned immediately,” according to the official, who asked not to be named in an email statement to reporters.

“She has also made clear that we expect all international NGOs, including those that receive U.S. government support, be able to return to normal operations as soon as possible in support of the democratic transition underway in Egypt.”

Meanwhile, 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.

“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.

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.

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