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Egyptian judges opt out of incitement trial

CAIRO — All three judges pulled out yesterday from Egypt’s trial of 43 prodemocracy workers, including 16 Americans, according to a court official, throwing into question the case that has ripped US-Egypt relations.

The defendants are charged with using illegal foreign funds to foment unrest that has roiled Egypt over the past year. The prodemocracy groups and the United States flatly deny the charges, and US officials have hinted that foreign aid to Egypt is in jeopardy.

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Lead Judge Mohammed Shoukry said yesterday that “the court felt uneasiness’’ in handling the case, according to the court official. He did not elaborate.

The official said new judges will be assigned to the case. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The trial has proceeded only as far as its opening session, and it would need to be restarted with a new panel of judges. Coupled with indications that the two countries are trying to resolve the crisis, it was seen possible that the trial might be called off at some point.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told two Senate panels yesterday that the United States and Egypt are “in very intensive discussions about finding a solution.’’

“We’ve had a lot of very tough conversations,’’ she said. “We’re moving toward a resolution. It’s important that they know that we are continuing to push them.’’

Ahmed Seif al-Islam, an Egyptian lawyer and rights activist, said it was hard to interpret what was behind the recusals.

He said that judges pull out of cases over relationships with defendants or their lawyers. In other cases, especially the political ones, judges might feel pressure and prefer to stay away.

“In general, the main reason is that the judge feels that he cannot act as a real judge, and his rulings would be unfair or influenced,’’ the lawyer said.

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