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Top brass discuss Egypt protests

The United States' top general discussed an Egyptian crackdown on Western-funded pro-democracy groups with the head of the country's ruling military council, as another two foreigners were arrested on charges of fomenting discontent on the first anniversary of Hosni Mubarak's ousting.

The meeting between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi took place as relations between the two allies have reached their lowest level in decades.

Egypt, which regularly blames anti-military protests on foreign meddling, has referred 16 American civil society employees to trial on charges of using State Department funds to finance unrest in Egypt.

Among those referred to trial is Sam LaHood, the head of the Egypt office of the Washington-based International Republican Institute and the son of US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

And in an indication that authorities will continue to push the line that foreigners are stirring up trouble, Egyptian police said they had arrested an Australian journalist and an American student whom they say residents accused of trying to bribe people to join a strike aimed at pressuring military rulers to transfer power to civilian rule.

The new arrests follow warnings from both the White House and Congress that the United States could cut an annual 1.5 billion US dollar aid package to Egypt over the crackdown on the civil society groups.

Gen Dempsey discussed a range of issues with Egyptian generals "including the issue involving US NGOs", according to his spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan who declined to give more details about the private discussions.

Egypt's state news agency said Gen Dempsey and the ruling generals discussed "the depth of the strategic relationship between Washington and Cairo", but a Pentagon official had said prior to the general's visit that he would talk with Egypt's leaders about "choices and consequences".

Egypt's generals have responded defiantly to both the Americans and to their domestic opposition, issuing a statement saying the country was facing great threats. "We face conspiracies hatched against the homeland, whose goal is to undermine the institutions of the Egyptian state and whose aim is to topple the state itself so that chaos reigns and destruction spreads," it said.

Activists say the conspiracy warnings seek to undermine their campaign aimed at pushing the generals to relinquish power.

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