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U.S. defense chief deeply concerned about Egypt's raids on NGOs

(Xinhua)

09:11, December 31, 2011

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday called head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Hussein Tantawi, expressing his deep concern about Egypt's raids on the offices of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), said the Pentagon.

"The Secretary expressed his deep concern about the raids that took place on December 29 on the offices of American and other NGOs," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement.

"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.

The statement said that Panetta noted that it was critical for Egypt to continue on the path to democratic transition.

He reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Egyptian security relationship and the U.S. commitment to the bilateral relationships, the statement added.

The Pentagon statement came after Egyptian police raided 17 local and foreign groups' offices in the capital Cairo Thursday over suspected illicit funding activities. Among them were U.S.- funded International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute.

Egypt's state prosecutor's office said in a statement that the NGOs have not obtained permits from the Egyptian authorities to open branches in the country, and documents, publications and equipment in the offices of the NGOs were seized during the raids.

Earlier in the day, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson had spoken with top Egyptian officials, including Tantawi, to demand normal operations for the NGOs.

Nuland said Patterson had received assurances from the Egyptian leaders that "the raids will cease and property will be returned immediately."

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