UPDATE 1-U.S. blames Egypt NGO crackdown on "Mubarak holdovers"

Tue Jan 3, 2012 8:35pm GMT

(Adds quotes, background)

WASHINGTON Jan 3 (Reuters) - The United States stepped up its criticism of Egypt's raids on pro-democracy groups on Tuesday, saying the crackdown was "unacceptable" and driven by remnants of former President Hosni Mubarak's regime.

"We had been assured by leaders within the Egyptian government that this issue would be resolved, that harassment would end, that NGOs would be allowed to go back to business as usual and that their property would be returned," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

"It is frankly unacceptable to us that that situation has not been returned to normal."

The United States reacted sharply when Egyptian authorities swooped in on some 17 non-governmental groups last week, including the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute, both loosely affiliated with the leading U.S. political parties.

The U.S. government hinted it could review the $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Cairo if the raids continued, underscoring Washington's concern over political developments in a country seen as the lynchpin of the Middle East.

But U.S. officials said later they had been assured by top civilian and military leaders that the crackdown would stop.

Nuland said on Tuesday these assurances appeared to be hollow, and that harassment of both U.S.-backed and Egyptian non-governmental groups continued.

"We are concerned that some of the most strident statements, particularly in recent days, made by Egyptian authorities seem to be made by old, Mubarak holdover types who clearly are not on the new page with the Egyptian people," she said.   Continued...

Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.