/ 17 March 2008

Egypt opposition leader’s lawyer ‘plays last card’

Egypt’s High Court on Monday rejected the latest bid by jailed opposition leader Ayman Nur to be released on medical grounds, his lawyer said, adding that he would now seek a presidential pardon.

The court was due to release details of its verdict against the one-time pro-democracy darling of the West later.

A lower court in July rejected Nur’s release on health grounds, saying his life was not in danger, while ordering him to be treated in a hospital outside prison.

”For the first time, I asked today for a presidential pardon for Ayman Nur,” lawyer Amir Salem said. ”Frankly, that’s the last card I can play. Now, everything is in the hands of the state.”

Nur, an insulin-dependent diabetic who stood against President Hosni Mubarak in a 2005 election, is serving a five-year jail term for forging affidavits needed to set up his Ghad party.

Egypt in January cancelled meetings with senior European Union officials and summoned all EU ambassadors in Cairo, furious over a text adopted by the European Parliament that criticised human rights in Egypt and called for Nur’s release.

Once a dynamic young politician, Nur was popular with Westerners calling for more democracy in Egypt. When he was first jailed in 2005, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sharply rebuked the government.

Nur went on to run against long-serving Mubarak in the country’s first open presidential elections where he came in a distant second. His party went on to splinter under infighting and the weight of a barrage of government-inspired lawsuits.

In contrast to its vocal calls for change in the early years of the administration of George Bush, the US has more recently reduced its pressure for reform in Egypt and the region. — Sapa-AFP