Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Egypt ignores US request to see jailed opponent

Tue Jan 17, 2006

CAIRO (Reuters) - The Egyptian authorities have ignored a request from U.S. congressman Frank Wolf to meet opposition leader Ayman Nour in prison and the prison visit will not take place, sources close to Nour said on Tuesday.

Wolf, a Virginia Republican, has been in Cairo since Saturday and asked Interior Minister Habib el-Adli and Justice Minister Mahmoud Aboul Leil to authorize the visit, they said.

"He has not had any response," one of the sources said. Asked if there was still any chance that Wolf would visit Nour in Tura jail south of Cairo, the source said: "No chance."

Nour, who came a distant second to President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt's first presidential elections in September, with 8 percent of the vote, is serving a five-year sentence after a Cairo court convicted him of forging documents.

Nour and his liberal Ghad (Tomorrow) Party say the authorities trumped up the charges to discredit Nour and keep him off the political stage for the next few years.

The vice president of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights, Kamal Abou El Magd, said after meeting Wolf on Monday that the congressman had been going around distributing U.S. editorials critical of Mubarak's handling of the Nour case.

But two close associates of Nour, who asked not to be named, said Egyptian officials who met Wolf appeared to have influenced the congressman's thinking on the Nour case.

"I had thought the issue was clear but he (Wolf) got the impression from all the officials he met that Nour has been a corrupt forger since he was young... The impressions given to him had an effect," one of the associates said.

Wolf has declined to speak to reporters on several occasions over the last two days. He had a meeting with President Mubarak on Tuesday but left the palace without speaking in public.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said they were not aware of any request from Wolf to visit Nour in prison.

One Nour associate said Nour felt Washington had lost interest in his case after criticizing his trial last year and giving the government a chance to paint him as American-backed.

The Washington Post said in an editorial on Tuesday that the United States should withdraw military aid to Egypt -- worth about $1.3 billion a year -- unless Nour comes out of jail.

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