Egypt releases Australian journalist, U.S. student

CAIRO Tue Feb 14, 2012 4:12am IST

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian authorities have released an Australian journalist and an American student who were detained on suspicion they had distributed cash to workers and incited them to take part in a strike, a judicial source said.

Prosecutors in the industrial city of al-Mahalla al-Kubra, north of Cairo said the two, who were detained on Saturday along with their Egyptian translator and a labour activist, would be released pending further investigations, the source said.

The state news agency had identified the American student as Derek Ludovici and the Australian journalist as Austin Mackell. The labour activist was named as Kamal el-Fayoumi.

A lawyer for the Australian journalist later confirmed his client's release to a private Egyptian television channel.

Activists had called for a nationwide strike on Saturday to mark the anniversary of the toppling of former President Hosni Mubarak from power and to press demands for a faster end to the rule of the military council that replaced him.

Accusations of alleged foreign meddling in Egyptian politics have started to gain pace in recent weeks.

The authorities in Cairo are prosecuting 43 foreign and Egyptian activists, including around 20 Americans, who had worked for pro-democracy groups including U.S.-based organisations.

The charges against them include working for organisations not properly registered in Egypt and illegally receiving foreign funds. The case has strained ties with Washington and put at risk $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid to Cairo.

(Writing by Dina Zayed)

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