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EGYPT HITS u.s. POLL workers

Washington-based election monitors denounced Egypt's military government for storming their offices in Cairo on Thursday, five days before the final vote for a new parliament.

Freedom House, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute called the police raids unprecedented, even under autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in a popular uprising in February.

"The raids represent an escalation of repression unheard of even during the Mubarak regime," said Freedom House President David J. Kramer.

He accused the transitional Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of conducting an "intensive campaign" against foreign and domestic civil rights groups monitoring the three-stage elections, which end Wednesday.

"It is the clearest indication yet that the ... military chiefs now ruling Egypt have no intention of permitting the establishment of genuine democracy and is attempting to scapegoat civil society for its own abysmal failure to manage Egypt's transition effectively," Mr. Kramer said.

The State Department said U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson protested the raids in a meeting with Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri in Cairo, while Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey D. Feltman complained to Egyptian Ambassador Sameh Shoukry in Washington.

"We call on the Egyptian government to immediately end the harassment [of the election groups], return all property and resolve this issue immediately," said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

The Egyptian government said the raids of about a dozen foreign and domestic groups were authorized by judicial authorities as part of an investigation into foreign funding of domestic political parties and private public-policy groups.

The Washington-based groups provide technical advice on organizing elections but no money to political parties. Freedom House also funds some independent election-monitoring groups.

Security forces confiscated computers, files and other equipment. They also accused some foreign organizations of operating illegally.

Freedom House said it filed the required government registration papers three days before the raid. The two other groups have had offices in Egypt since 2005.

"The IRI is dismayed and disappointed by these actions," said spokeswoman Lisa Gates. "It is ironic that during the Mubarak era, IRI was not subjected to such aggressive action."

National Democratic Institute President Kenneth Wollack said security forces hit its offices in Cairo, Alexandria and Assiut, one of Egypt's most ancient cities.

"Cracking down on organizations whose sole purpose is to support the democratic process during Egypt's historic transition sends a disturbing signal," he said.

'TOUR OF TYRANTS'

The chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is warning that Iran will try to expand its influence in Latin America with the Iranian president's visit to communist and socialist nations in the region next month.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is calling President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's trip to Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela a "tour of tyrants."

"Iran has been actively working for years to expand its ties and influences in the Western Hemisphere, and it has found willing partners in the region's anti-American despots," the Florida Republican said this week.

She warned that Iranian activity in the Caribbean and in Central and South America "threatens regional security and stability."

Mr. Ahmadinejad will begin his trip in the second week of January with a visit to Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez is fighting cancer, the Iranian government announced Wednesday.

The Iranian leader next will attend the inauguration of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, whose re-election was criticized by independent election observers as deeply flawed.

He will finish his four-day trip with stops in communist Cuba to visit President Raul Castro and in Ecuador, where socialist President Rafael Correa has launched a "new era of widespread repression," according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"The partnerships between the Iranian regime and the Castro, Chavez, Ortega and Correa dictatorships include defense cooperation and economic pacts and various other schemes designed to increase their power and harm America," Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen noted that Mr. Ahmadinejad will visit as Congress considers additional sanctions on Iran to stop it from building a nuclear weapon.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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