CAIRO - An Egyptian parliament speaker on Saturday decried what he said was "flagrant interference" behind a decision to release pro-democracy American activists accused of receiving illegal funds.

The comments by Saad al-Katatni, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, signaled growing anger over a sudden judicial decision on Wednesday to lift the travel ban of 43 non-governmental organization workers, including 16 Americans.

Katatni vowed that all those involved in the decision would be held accountable. He also said a special parliamentary session to be held on March 11 would summon the prime minister and other government officials for an inquiry into the circumstances of the ban lift.

Fifteen foreigners, including eight Americans, were flown out of Cairo on Thursday.

The decision defused the first diplomatic standoff in decades between Washington and Cairo. But it also drew fierce criticism from Egyptian politicians and raised questions over possible pressure by the ruling military on the judges.

"We do not accept any form of foreign interference in Egypt's internal affairs, under any justification," said Katatni, who is also the secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.

"We will not allow anyone, regardless of who it is, to impact the sovereignty of this country and its institutions."

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. Their departure came after days of behind-the-scenes negotiations between Washington and Cairo.

Critics accused the generals, who have ruled the country since Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year, of bowing to American pressure.

"It is within parliament's role to stand up to this crime and to hold all those involved accountable, regardless of who they are and what their positions may be," said Katatni.

"This was a flagrant interference into the judiciary's work," he said to applause at the start of a joint session of the two houses or parliament, convening to draw up an assembly to write the country's constitution.

The group of 15 people who left Cairo also included three Serbs, two Germans, one Norwegian and one Palestinian, Egypt's official news agency said. Airport sources said they left on a US plane sent to get them. The group later arrived in Cyprus, where they were met by US embassy staff.

Katatni questioned how a private US military plane had landed in Cairo's airport before the travel ban had been lifted and why a judge in the case had stepped aside just days before the decision.

The case remains open.

"This case cannot be ended by a political decree, under any circumstances and the final word will be for the Egyptian judiciary and not to any other party, regardless of who it is," Katatni said.

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