Americans shelter in US embassy in Cairo
Washington - Several American citizens have taken refuge in the US embassy in Cairo amid a sharpening dispute between Washington and Egypt's military-led authorities over US-funded pro-democracy groups in the country, the state department said on Monday.
"We can confirm that a handful of US citizens have opted to stay in the embassy compound in Cairo while waiting for permission to depart Egypt," state department spokesperson Kate Starr said.
The unusual step of offering US citizens diplomatic refuge follows Cairo's crackdown on non-governmental organisations, including several funded by the US government, which saw travel bans imposed on six American staffers, including a son of US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Egyptian police first raided the groups in late December as part of an investigation into foreign funding of 17 pro-democracy and human rights groups, part of what civil society groups say has been a broader crackdown on critics of the army's heavy-handed tactics in dealing with street unrest.
Washington has strongly criticised the Egyptian move, which has cast a pall over US-Egypt relations as the most populous Arab nation reaches a critical stage in its uncertain transition away from authoritarian rule.
Leading US lawmakers have also voiced outrage over the incident, and American officials have repeatedly warned that Washington may have to take a fresh look at US aid to Egypt's military, which now runs about $1.3bn per year.