American activists fly out of Egypt, defusing row

March 1, 2012 20:01

CAIRO - US pro-democracy activists flew out of Egypt on Thursday after the authorities lifted a travel ban, a move that is likely to defuse the worst row between Washington and Cairo in decades.

Egyptian authorities had accused the campaigners, including the son of US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, of working for groups receiving illegal foreign funding and prevented them from leaving the country.

US officials said the case, as long as it was unresolved, jeopardized $1.3 billion in annual military aid, a cash transfer that began flowing after Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979. Washington's ties with Cairo were a pillar of its Middle East policy under US ally Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed last year.

A judge said on Wednesday the ban had been lifted. "They (the activists) have left," the airport official told Reuters on Thursday, without giving further details.

The group of 15 people, included eight Americans, among them Sam LaHood, three Serbians, two Germans and one Norwegian and one Palestinian, Egypt's official news agency said. Airport sources said they left on a US plane sent to get them.

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