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    Egypt Agrees to Stop Raids on Democracy Groups

    Egyptians pray during a demonstration in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, December 30, 2011.
    Egyptians pray during a demonstration in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, December 30, 2011.

    The U.S. State Department said Egypt has agreed to halt raids against non-governmental pro-democracy groups and return property seized in the crackdown.

    Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson spoke Friday with senior Egyptian officials to underscore Washington's concern about the raids on the organizations, including three groups funded by Washington.  

    Egyptian security forces stormed 17 offices of human rights groups Thursday as part of an investigation military rulers say will reveal how foreign funding has fomented the country's ongoing unrest.

    But a group of Egyptian human rights organizations has accused the country's ruling military council of attempting to "take revenge" against pro-democracy groups by raiding their offices.

    A statement signed by 28 Egyptian civil society groups said the raids were part of a wider campaign to discredit activists who criticize the country's interim military rulers.

    The group called the raids "unprecedented," saying that not even under former president Hosni Mubarak's repressive government did such raids occur.

    Among the groups targeted were the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute - both of which are funded by the U.S. government. The offices of the U.S.-based Freedom House also were raided, along with Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation and at least two Egyptian non-governmental organizations.

    Heavily armed men searched offices in Cairo and at least two other cities, confiscating computers, documents, cell phones and funds while holding staff members incommunicado.

    Egypt's state-run news agency MENA said the raids were directed by the Justice Ministry as part of a wider investigation into "illegal foreign funding" of the organizations, as well as other "crimes," including operating without permits.

    Egypt's interim government and military rulers have criticized U.S. funding of non-governmental organizations, saying such assistance must have official approval.

    Earlier this month, Justice Minister Abdel Abdel-Hamid accused about 300 nonprofit groups of receiving unauthorized foreign funding and using the money to support anti-government protests.

    Egypt is currently investigating foreign financing for such groups operating in the country. Prosecutors have described the practice as treason.

    Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

    Join the conversation on our social journalism site - Middle East Voices. Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter and discuss them on our Facebook page.

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