UAE briefly detains staff of US democracy group

BRIAN MURPHY Associated Press Published:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- United Arab Emirates authorities temporarily detained members of a U.S.-funded democracy group as they tried to leave the country after their office was ordered closed, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The group included the local director of the National Democratic Institute, or NDI, who was briefly held and left the country, and another staff member, who was apparently held longer and later released, said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. The other NDI staff member remained in the UAE.

"We continue to be in close contact with the government of the UAE to try to find a resolution to this," said Toner in Washington.

The NDI was ordered closed last week along with other foreign groups in the UAE.

The NDI also was among several foreign groups raided by Egyptian authorities in December. Some activists, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and other Americans, were later charged with fomenting unrest.

The UAE defended the closures, saying that licensing issues forced the move, according to the state news agency WAM. It quoted a Foreign Ministry official as saying some groups violated the terms of their license and others did not have approval to operate.

The terse statement by Abdul Rahim al-Awadhi, assistant UAE Foreign Minister for legal affairs, gave no other details and did not mention the detentions.

In the past two weeks, the UAE closed branches of the NDI and the German pro-democracy group Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The Washington-based polling organization Gallup also closed its Abu Dhabi office.

The moves brought widespread criticism by the UAE's Western allies. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Western viewed the closures with "regret."

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Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.