Egypt pushes ahead with islands deal after clashes

2017-06-14 15:33
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Cairo - An Egyptian parliament committee on Wednesday approved a disputed 2016 agreement to transfer control of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia hours after clashes between police and opponents of the deal in downtown Cairo.

Members of the defense and national security committee said they approved the pact in a vote — 35 for, 2 against — in a closed, 30-minute meeting, paving the way for the document to be ratified by the full house, a virtual foregone conclusion given that the 596-seat chamber is packed with government supporters.

Another committee approved the deal on Tuesday after a three-day, often raucous review.

During the clashes late Tuesday, police kicked, punched and used sticks to beat several dozen protesters. An unspecified number of arrests were made and, according to rights lawyers, at least eight protesters remained in police custody on Wednesday.

The government says the islands of Tiran and Sanafir at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba were always Saudi but were placed under Egypt's protection amid Arab-Israeli tensions in the 1950s. Critics have linked the transfer to the billions of dollars in Saudi aid given to President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's government, saying it amounts to a sell-off of sovereign territory.

The announcement of the agreement, during an April 2016 visit to Cairo by the Saudi king, was followed by the largest anti-government protests since el-Sissi took office in 2014. Hundreds of demonstrators and activists were arrested, with most later released.

A court ruled against the islands transfer in January, but lawmakers who support the deal say parliament has the right to ratify international agreements.

Read more on:    egypt  |  north africa

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