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US Concerned by Egyptian Action Against Protesters

The United States is expressing deep concern over the arrests and repression of demonstrators in Cairo Thursday who were marching in support of judges who called last year's Egyptian parliamentary elections fraudulent. Officials said the United States would raise the issue directly with Egyptian authorities.

The United States has responded with unusual vigor to the Egyptian government's use of force to break up a demonstration by supporters of judges being disciplined for criticizing the conduct of the parliamentary elections.

Riot police beat and detained demonstrators at the rally near a Cairo courthouse where the two judges were to have appeared to face charges. A VOA correspondent on the scene said police armed with sticks dragged protesters and journalists trying to cover the event into police vans and beat them.

An undetermined number of demonstrators were arrested.

In a statement volunteered to reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States was deeply concerned by the repression and arrest of Egyptian demonstrators protesting election fraud and calling for a free judiciary, and that the police tactics which caused many injuries were particularly troubling.

McCormack also said U.S. officials are troubled by reports that detention of some of those arrested had been extended and security related charges filed against them.

He called on the government of President Hosni Mubarak to allow peaceful demonstrations for reform and civil liberties and said Thursday's incident was only the latest in a series of events in Egypt of concern to U.S. officials.

"We have noted our serious concern about the path of political reform and democracy in Egypt, and actions such as these are incongruous with the Egyptian government's professed commitment to increased political openness and dialogue within Egyptian society," McCormack said. "We will be following up with the Egyptian government regarding our concerns and will continue to push for political reform and freedom of speech and press. We support the rights of Egyptians and people throughout the Middle East to peacefully advocate for democracy and political reform."

McCormack said the matter would be raised directly with the Egyptian government through the U.S. embassy in Cairo and Egypt's embassy in Washington.

Earlier this month, the State Department expressed disappointment that the Mubarak government extended the country's 25-year-old emergency law, without fulfilling promises to replace the wide-ranging law with specific anti-terrorism measures.

The emergency law was first passed in 1981 in response to the assassination Mr. Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, and allows the government to detain prisoners indefinitely without charge.

Egypt has been a major focus of the Bush administration's Middle East democracy campaign. The United States welcomed the fact that Mr. Mubarak was re-elected last September in a contested election, rather than a yes-or-no referendum as in past years.

But it sharply criticized the subsequent imprisonment of Mr. Mubarak's main challenger Ayman Nour, and also faulted elements of the parliamentary elections in November and December.

Spokesman McCormack said Egypt remains a good friend and ally of the United States, and that they are working on common issues, including the fight against terrorism and efforts to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

At the same time he said when matters like the handling of Thursday's protest arise, the United States is going to speak very clearly about them, because that is what friends do.

Under questioning, McCormack said the Bush administration continues to support U.S. aid to Egypt at traditional levels of nearly two billion dollars a year, mainly for the Egyptian military.

But he also said Egypt needs to understand that delivery of the aid requires the backing of the U.S. Congress, where he said concerns about the Cairo government's human rights record have also been raised.