Egypt detains former ministers

Egypt has arrested two former government ministers and a businessman on suspicion of diverting public funds, according to a judicial source.

Once widely feared former interior minister Habib el-Hadly was also arrested on suspicion of money-laundering and ordered held for 15 days, the same source said.

News of the arrests came a week minus a day after longtime president Hosni Mubarak resigned in the face of a popular uprising.

Prosecutors ordered former tourism minister Zuheir Garana, former housing minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi and businessman Ahmad Ezz also to be held for 15 days “to assist in an investigation,” the source said.

The four are among a number of former ministers and officials who have had their bank accounts frozen and been barred from leaving the country. Britain, France, Germany and the United States say Egypt has called on them to freeze the accounts of ex-officials.

Ezz, a steel magnate, was a member of the former ruling National Democratic Party. He was considered to be a mentor of Gamal Mubarak, son of former president Hosni Mubarak and long considered a possible successor to his father.

He is suspected of having obtained permits to build two factories in the Suez freec trade zone in contravention of existing regulations, the official MENA news agency said.

Meanwhile, the United States announced on Thursday that it was giving Egypt $150 million in crucial economic assistance to help the key US ally transition towards democracy following the overthrow of longtime president Mubarak.

“I am pleased to announce today that we will be reprogramming $150 million for Egypt to put ourselves in a position to support the transition there and assist with their economic recovery,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

The chief US diplomat added that William Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, and David Lipton, a senior White House adviser on international economics, would travel to Egypt next week.

The pair will “consult with Egyptian counterparts on how we can most effectively deploy our assistance in line with their priorities,” Clinton told reporters after a closed-door briefing with senators about Middle East unrest.

“We also discussed the lessons of the recent events in Egypt and the broader Middle East,” she said.

“These events demonstrate why the United States must remain fully engaged around the world,” she said, before repeating her warning that planned Republican cuts in foreign aid would harm US national security.

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