US primary candidate likens Egypt activist trials to Iran hostage crisis

White House hopeful Newt Gingrich likened Cairo's apparent plans to put 19 Americans on trial over charges of illegal funding of aid groups to the Iran hostage crisis.

"The Obama administration is appeasing the elements that oppose us," Gingrich said, deriding the Arab Spring for bringing "radical" Islamists to power in Egypt after the overthrow of US-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak.

"In Egypt you now have Americans being held hostage," Gingrich told a rally in Minneapolis ahead of Republican nominating caucuses there Tuesday.

"This is intolerable. This resembles Jimmy Carter and the Iranian hostage crisis."

Some 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days after the US Embassy in Tehran was stormed and occupied during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. 

The crisis undermined the presidency of Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and the hostages were not released until moments after President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, was inaugurated.

Gingrich, who often compares himself on the campaign trail to Reagan, said Obama's foreign policy mirrored Carter's "weakness."

"If I were president, the message to the Egyptian government this evening would be quiet, firm, unequivocal; and I suspect that by sometime tomorrow morning all the hostages would be on an airplane coming home," the former House speaker said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday warned Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr that the United States is reviewing aid to Egypt — US$1.3 billion last year — over the recent crackdown on pro-democracy activists.

A judicial source in Cairo told AFP 44 people, including Egyptians, would be tried over alleged illegal funding of aid groups.

The offices of Freedom House and the International Republican Institute were among 17 local and international NGOs raided in December by Egyptian authorities as part of a probe into alleged illegal funding.

Among those barred from leaving the country is the Egypt director of IRI, Sam LaHood, the son of US Secretary for Transportation Ray LaHood.

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