Kerry in Egypt to push democracy as US releases aid

US Secretary of State John Kerry. AFP Photo

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Egypt Sunday on a surprise trip, becoming the highest-ranking US official to visit since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power.
Kerry was to meet Sisi during his lightning trip to press the former army chief, who ousted Egypt's first democratically elected president, to install greater political freedoms and discuss security challenges.
Since Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was toppled in July 2013, a government crackdown on his supporters has left more than 1,400 people dead in street clashes and at least 15,000 jailed.
US officials warned Washington still has deep concerns about the government's "polarising tactics," even though there was a "recognition that Egypt has been going through a very difficult transition".
Kerry's visit comes a day after an Egyptian court confirmed death sentences for more than 180 Islamists, including Muslim Brotherhood chief Mohamed Badie, after a speedy mass trial that sparked an international outcry.
$572 million aid to Egypt

The US officials also revealed that a tranche of about $572 million (420 million euros) in aid, which had been frozen since October, was released to the Egyptian government about 10 days ago after finally winning a green light from Congress. It will mainly go to pay existing defence contracts.
US officials announced in April they planned to resume some of the annual $1.5 billion in mostly military aid to Cairo including 10 Apache helicopters for counterterrorism efforts in the Sinai peninsula.
But the aircraft remain in storage in the US, an official confirmed Sunday.
Sisi won some 97 percent...

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