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US Urges Egypt to Reconsider Arrest of Opposition Legislator


The United States Monday urged the Egyptian government to reconsider its arrest of a prominent legislator. The State Department said the arrest of opposition party leader Ayman Nour raises questions about the outlook for democracy in Egypt.

The State Department says it is concerned about the signal the arrest of Egyptian opposition party leader Ayman Nour sends, and it is publicly calling on the government of President Hosni Mubarak to re-examine its prosecution of the politician.

Mr. Nour, head of the newly-formed al-Ghad, or Tomorrow Party, was stripped of his parliamentary immunity and arrested Saturday on suspicion that signatures on documents under which his party was registered were forged.

Mr. Nour denied the charges as trumped-up at a court hearing in Cairo Monday at which a judge rejected his appeal to be released on bail and extended his detention for 45 days.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said that Mr. Nour is one of Egypt's most prominent opposition leaders, and that his arrest raises questions about the outlook for the democratic process in Egypt, at a time when the Cairo government has made reform gestures:

"This is the beginning of an election year in Egypt," he said. "We're on the eve of a long-planned national dialogue between opposition parties, including [Mr. ] Nour's, and the ruling National Democratic Party. That is a dialogue we feel is very valuable and we find this arrest at this moment incongruous with proceeding with that dialogue."

Mr. Boucher also said U.S. officials are concerned about reports the 45-year-old legislator has been harshly treated during his detention.

He said Mr. Nour is a diabetic, and expressed hope the Egyptian government will make sure he gets proper medical attention.

The spokesman also said the government should grant him immediate and transparent access to counsel and appropriate legal recourse, and re-examine the overall issue of his detention, given his status as an opposition leader in parliament.

Mr. Nour was elected leader of al-Ghad, a self-described liberal party appealing to Egyptian youth, in November.

He met last week with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who heads a non-governmental group promoting democracy affiliated with the U.S. Democratic Party.

Mr. Nour, along with other opposition figures, has called for political reforms in Egypt, including allowing individual candidates to run against President Mubarak.

Under current law, Mr. Mubarak, in office since 1981, is subject only to yes-or-no referenda on his continued rule.

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