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In brief: Egypt preparing for trial of 19 Americans

Cairo – Egypt said Saturday the criminal trial of 16 Americans and 27 others will start Feb. 26 in a politically charged case against foreign-funded pro-democracy groups that has badly shaken Cairo’s ties with Washington.

The trial represents an escalation in what has become the deepest crisis in U.S.-Egypt relations in decades.

The investigation into the pro-democracy and rights groups began in December, when armed security forces raided the offices of 10 nonprofit groups.

Egypt’s state news agency said Saturday the trial of 43 defendants in the case will begin Feb. 26. The report said 16 of the defendants are Egyptians, 19 are Americans, and the rest are Germans, Palestinians and Jordanians.

The Americans work for four U.S.-based groups: the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House and a group that trains journalists.

Only seven of the Americans are in Egypt, and all have been barred from travel. Some have sought refuge at the American Embassy in Cairo, including Sam LaHood, who heads IRI’s Egypt office and is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The report said the defendants have been charged with founding and managing offices of international organizations without Egyptian licenses. The groups’ operations “infringe on Egyptian sovereignty,” it said.

Latvian voters reject Russian language

Riga, Latvia – Latvian voters on Saturday resoundingly rejected a proposal to give official status to Russian, the mother tongue of their former Soviet occupiers.

Russian is the first language for about one-third of the Baltic country’s 2.1 million people, and many of them would like to accord official status to the language to reverse what they claim has been 20 years of discrimination.

But for ethnic Latvians, the referendum was a brazen attempt to encroach on Latvia’s independence, which was restored two decades ago after a half-century of occupation by the Soviet Union following World War II.

Many Latvians still consider Russian – the lingua franca of the Soviet Union – as the language of the former occupiers.

With over 93 percent of ballots counted, 75 percent of voters said they were against Russian as a national language, according to the Central Election Commission results.


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Early exit polls show strong support to lift Ireland ban on abortion

UPDATED: 3:05 p.m.

Ireland’s referendum Friday represented more than a vote on whether to end the country’s strict abortion ban. It was a battle for the very soul of a traditionally conservative Roman Catholic nation that has seen a wave of liberalization in recent years.