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US cuts millions in aid to Egypt

The US has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to its Middle East ally Egypt, responding to the military removal last summer of the nation's first democratically elected president and the crackdown on protesters that has sunk the country into turmoil.

While the State Department did not provide an amount of what was being withheld, most of it is linked to military aid. In all, the US provides 1.5 billion dollars (£940 million) in aid each year to Egypt.

Officials said the aid being withheld included 10 Apache helicopters at a cost of about 500 million dollars (£313,000), F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 tank kits and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

The US also is withholding 260 million dollars (£163 million) in cash assistance to the government until "credible progress" is made toward an inclusive government set up through free and fair elections.

The US had already suspended the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets and cancelled biennial US-Egyptian military exercises.

Before the announcement, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the Egyptian military leader, described his country's relations with the United States as "strategic" and founded on mutual interests, but he told the Cairo daily Al-Masry al-Youm that Egypt would not tolerate pressure, "whether through actions or hints".

Neighbouring Israel also has indicated concern. The Israelis consider the US aid to Egypt to be important support for the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.

The State Department stressed that the long-standing US partnership with Egypt would continue and that it sees the aid decision as temporary. Still, the decision puts ties between the US and Egypt at their rockiest point in more than three decades.

"The United States continues to support a democratic transition and oppose violence as a means of resolving differences within Egypt," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"We will continue to review the decisions regarding our assistance periodically and will continue to work with the interim government to help it move toward our shared goals in an atmosphere free of violence and intimidation."

The US will continue to provide support for health and education and counter-terrorism, spare military parts, military training and education, border security and security assistance in the Sinai Peninsula, where near-daily attacks against security forces and soldiers have increasingly resembled a full-fledged insurgency.

The withdrawal of aid came as a date was announced for t he politically charged trial of Mohammed Morsi.

The court case will begin on November 4, almost four months to the day since the country's first democratically elected president was toppled by the military.

The prosecution of Mr Morsi on charges of inciting his followers to kill opponents of his rule takes the crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood to a new level and is likely to fuel protests by his Islamist supporters, stoking the turmoil shaking Egypt.

Since his July 3 removal, Morsi backers have taken to the streets in rallies met by a fierce response by security forces that has left hundreds dead.

For Egypt's military-backed government, the trial is a chance to lay out their justification for the sweeping arrest campaign and ultimately for Mr Morsi's removal. Authorities contend the former president and the Brotherhood, which dominated power during his year in office, committed crimes while in power and have turned to violence since his removal.

But the military, now Egypt's dominant political power, also opens itself up to criticism that it is carrying out show trials to crush the Brotherhood, which accuses the army and its supporters of wrecking Egypt's fledgling democracy.

Mr Morsi has been held in secret military detention since his removal, with almost no contact with the outside world beyond two phone calls with his family. During his interrogation, his defence lawyers have not been allowed to talk to him and say they have not been shown any documentation of the prosecution's case.

Elsewhere, hundreds of Egyptians held candles, waved pictures of killed protesters and demanded retribution from former generals while marking the second anniversary of the killing of 26 people, mostly Christians, in a military crackdown.

But participants in the solemn vigil in Cairo were divided about criticising the military over the deaths, a sign of shifting attitudes since the army's removal of the Mr Morsi last summer.

The more belligerent chanted "down with military rule", a slogan made famous during the chaotic military-led transition period after the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Some even called for the execution of former army chief Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.

Other demonstrators rejected the anti-military chants, describing the army as a saviour for its overthrow of Mr Morsi after millions marched demanding his resignation.

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