CAIRO: Egyptian investigating judges on Sunday referred 43 NGO workers, including 19 Americans, to trial before a criminal court for allegedly being involved in banned activities and illegally receiving foreign funds.
The decision is likely to further sour relations between Egypt's military rulers and the United States, the Arab nation's chief western backer for more than 30 years.
Beside the 19 Americans, those referred to trial included five Serbs, two Germans and three non-Egyptian Arab nationals. Among the Americans is Sam LaHood, the head of the Egypt office of the Washington-based International Republican Institute and the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
A date has yet to be set for the start of the trial.
The referral is the latest development in a long-running row between Washington and Cairo over an Egyptian crackdown on U.S.-funded groups promoting democracy and human rights.
On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Egypt's foreign minister that failure to resolve the dispute may lead to the loss of American aid. Washington is due to give Egypt $1.3 billion in military assistance and $250 million in economic aid in 2012.
The Egyptian investigation is closely intertwined with Egypt's political turmoil since the ouster nearly a year ago of Hosni Mubarak, a close U.S. ally who ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years. The generals who took power after Mubarak's fall have accused "foreign hands" of being behind protests against their rule and frequently depict the protesters as receiving foreign funds in a plot to destabilize the country.
Already, Egyptian authorities are preventing at least six Americans and four Europeans from leaving the country, citing a probe opened last month when heavily armed security forces raided the offices of 17 pro-democracy and rights groups. Egyptian officials have defended the raid as part of a legitimate investigation into the groups' work and funding.
Sunday's decision also slapped a travel ban on all 43 NGO workers referred to trial. AGENCIES