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PM wants them home

Feds working for release of two Canadians in captivity in Egypt

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OTTAWA -- At the behest of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the government is doing "absolutely everything it can" to secure the release of two Canadians held without charge in Egypt, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says.

More than seven weeks after they were arrested at the height of civil unrest in Cairo, Toronto filmmaker John Greyson and London, Ont., doctor Tarek Loubani were ordered detained for another 45 days on the weekend.

"The government, at the prime minister's direction, has been engaged in a big way to secure the release of these two Canadians," Baird told a news conference Tuesday.

"I don't want to up the rhetoric that would impede their expeditious release. I would just say we're having strong discussions with the Egyptian authorities on this.

"Canadians have got to know that their government at the highest levels is doing absolutely everything it can."

In a statement Saturday, the two men said they were observing an anti-government demonstration Aug. 16 when Loubani heeded a call for a doctor and began treating wounded demonstrators while Greyson recorded the unrest on video.

The men were later arrested while heading back to their hotel. Their statement said they were beaten and dumped in a squalid, cockroach-infested jail cell crammed with others picked up that day.

The government is taking a "two-track approach," judicial and political, said Baird, citing recent meetings between Canada's ambassador in Cairo and the Egyptian attorney general, as well as discussions between ambassadors in both countries and his own talks with Egypt's foreign minister.

"I stated in no uncertain terms that this was a significant problem in our bilateral relations," Baird said. "It's simply unacceptable that Canadians can be held for this long with no specific charges, no specific evidence."

Some reports have suggested the pair could soon face murder charges, but Baird said those charges appear to be directed at the larger group of protesters rather than at Greyson and Loubani themselves.

"I think the thing that Canadians have got to know is that the prime minister's directed we bring all resources to bear to resolve this as expeditiously as possible," he said.

"The government is doing absolutely everything it can to secure their release."

Egyptian prosecutors have accused Loubani and Greyson of "participating with members of the Muslim Brotherhood" in an attack on a police station, but have not brought forward specific charges.

The men's statement said they witnessed more than 50 people die in the unrest. They had planned an overnight stay in Cairo en route to Gaza, where Loubani was to do humanitarian work documented by Greyson, but barred from getting across the border, they decided to investigate the protest in Ramses Square mere blocks from their hotel.

The unrest in Cairo was sparked after president Mohammed Morsi was removed from power, prompting his supporters to take to the streets.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 2, 2013 A9

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