Egypt detains Australian journalist, U.S. student

CAIRO Sat Feb 11, 2012 5:47pm EST

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian authorities detained an Australian journalist and an American student on Saturday on suspicion they had distributed cash to workers and incited them to take part in a strike called by activists demanding an end to army rule, the state news agency said.

The pair were detained along with their Egyptian translator in the industrial city of al-Mahalla al-Kubra north of Cairo.

They were referred to the prosecutor general for investigation, the agency said, identifying the American student as Derek Ludovici and the Australian journalist as Austin Mackell.

Activists had called for a nationwide strike on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the toppling of Hosni Mubarak from power and to press demands for a faster end to the rule of the military council that replaced him.

Accusations of alleged foreign meddling in Egyptian politics have started to gain pace in recent weeks.

The authorities in Cairo are prosecuting 43 foreign and Egyptian activists, including around 20 Americans, who had worked for pro-democracy groups including U.S.-based organizations.

The case is straining ties with Washington and putting at risk $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid to Cairo.

The charges leveled against the democracy activists include working for organizations not properly registered in Egypt and receiving foreign funds illegally.

(Reporting by Tamim Elyan; Editing by Tom Perry and Alison Williams)

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