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US shocked by Egypt's death sentences but still talking to government

Source: Reuters - Mon, 24 Mar 2014 20:32 GMT
Author: Reuters
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WASHINGTON, March 24 (Reuters) - The United States said on Monday it was shocked by death sentences handed down on 529 members of Egypt's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, but said it was still talking to the Egyptian government.

"We're certainly raising it with the Egyptian government ... it's a pretty shocking number," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told a regular news briefing.

"It defies logic that over 529 defendants could be tried in a two-day period in accordance with international standards," she said.

An Egyptian court issued the death sentences on Monday for murder and other offenses. Most of the defendants were charged with carrying out attacks during clashes that erupted in the southern province of Minya after the forced dispersal of two Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in Cairo in August.

Harf said the United States still considered its ties with Egypt to be important and added: "We don't want to completely cut off the relationship."

She said there had been "pretty significant bumps in the road" as the United States sought to encourage a democratic transition in Egypt.

"I'm not going to sugarcoat it and say that it's been easy or without problems, and I think this is an example of that," she said, adding that the number of politically motivated arrests, convictions and detentions in Egypt since July had been "very disturbing."

"It's a trend we don't want to see continue. And we'll keep working with the interim government to see if we can make some progress here."

While it has expressed concern over a crackdown on Islamists and liberals by Egypt's military-backed government in which hundreds have been killed and thousands jailed, Washington has continued to describe the country -- which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the Suez Canal -- as a vital partner.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on March 12 he would decide "in the days ahead" whether to resume U.S. aid to Egypt after suspending the funds last year over the ouster of President Mohamed Mursi and a crackdown against protesters.

A congressional spending bill unveiled in January would restore more than $1.5 billion in military and economic aid to Egypt, but a decision by Kerry is needed for the funds to flow again.

Egypt has been among the largest recipients of U.S. military and economic aid for decades because of its 1979 peace treaty with U.S. ally Israel, which agreed as a result of the pact to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula it had seized from Egypt in 1967. (Reporting and writing by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Peter Cooney and Leslie Adler)

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