Egypt says U.S. NGO workers cleared to leave

Thu Mar 1, 2012 9:08am EST
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By Tom Pfeiffer and Marwa Awad

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's airport authorities have been told that a travel ban on U.S. pro-democracy activists has been lifted, airport sources said Thursday, opening the way to defuse a row that U.S. officials linked to $1.3 billion of annual military aid.

A judge had said Wednesday that Egypt was scrapping the ban, which barred the departure of U.S. citizens and others working for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that Cairo says received foreign funds illegally.

Judge Abdel Moez Ibrahim told state media Thursday that, after an appeal by those charged, the case was switched from a criminal court to one handling misdemeanors where the maximum penalty was a fine, not jail.

With that, those involved could post bail of 2 million Egyptian pounds ($330,000) each and the travel ban would be lifted.

Officials had earlier said the ban had been lifted only from the Americans involved. The latest comments suggest the travel ban could also be lifted from Egyptians, Serbs, Norwegians and Germans involved in the case once they post bail.

"Instructions have arrived to lift the travel ban on the accused Americans in the case of foreign financing to allow them to leave should they turn up to travel," one airport source said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said on Wednesday she expected a swift resolution to the row, which included slapping a travel ban on the son of the U.S. transportation secretary who works for an NGO in Egypt.

Sixteen of the 43 people charged are Americans. Seven of the Americans are in Egypt and some of those have sought refuge in the U.S. embassy, which had no comment on the case.   Continued...