WASHINGTON, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department said it is "deeply concerned" about Egyptian security forces' raids Thursday on offices of non-governmental organizations.
"We call on the Egyptian government to resolve this issue immediately and to end harassment of NGO staff as well as return all property," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a Washington news briefing.
Her comments came after Egypt said its security forces stormed the offices of 17 non-profit groups in the country as part of an investigation into the role of "foreign hands" in fomenting recent protests.
"This action is inconsistent with the bilateral cooperation we have had over many years," Nuland said. "We have been in touch with the American NGOs and with the government of Egypt at high levels."
In Cairo, The New York Times reported, heavily armed men in black uniforms carried away boxes and computers and prevented employees from leaving the offices of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute -- both affiliated with American political parties and financed by the U.S. government. The Cairo offices of Freedom House, based in Washington, also were raided, the Times said.
Nuland said the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Anne W. Patterson, was to follow up with Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri to seek more information, and Jeffrey D. Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, had spoken with the Egyptian Embassy in Washington.
Meanwhile, Heba Morayef, a Human Rights Watch researcher in Cairo, called the raids "completely unprecedented," The Christian Science Monitor reported.
Morayef said rights organizations had been targeted under President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in February, but never on such a scale.
"My biggest fear is that this is designed to crack down on the most independent organizations," says Morayef. "These organizations are dependent on foreign funding because they couldn't receive local funding under Mubarak. The NGO law should have been amended and wasn't."
The Times noted the raids came after an Egyptian government investigation into foreign financing of NGOs, and the military has suggested the funding played a role in inciting protests in hopes of toppling the country's government.
But casting serious doubt on the military rulers' claim, the newspaper noted the U.S. government provides Egypt's military $1.3 billion in annual aid.
Suit challenges Va. Gingrich ballot ruling
RICHMOND, Va., Dec. 29 (UPI) -- A Virginia Tea Party activist said he has filed suit challenging a decision by state elections officials to keep Newt Gingrich off the GOP primary ballot.
Gingrich, a former U.S. House Speaker, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry failed to hand in enough valid signatures to qualify for the March 6, 2012, primary ballot, Virginia officials said Saturday.
In a news release, Jonathan Moseley said he filed suit Thursday in the Circuit Court of Richmond County, alleging Gingrich complied with Virginia law, filing 11,000 petition signatures -- 1,000 more than the law requires -- but that many of the signatures were improperly excluded.
Perry filed a federal challenge Tuesday to Virginia's ballot access rules. Members of the Perry campaign said the suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, challenges the "constitutional validity of the Virginia statute [that] regulates access to the ballot by primary candidates."
"Virginia ballot access rules are among the most onerous and are particularly problematic in a multi-candidate election," campaign communications chief Ray Sullivan said.
Only former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas were able to fulfill requirements and get on the ballot for the "Super Tuesday" primary.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said Virginia's laws favored the richest presidential candidates while Gingrich's campaign called the state's system "failed."
Gingrich has lived in Virginia for 12 years.
BP employees could face charges for spill
HOUSTON, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- U.S. prosecutors are preparing criminal charges against BP employees in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that killed 11 people, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Felony charges could be filed in early 2012 against several engineers in Houston and at least one of their supervisors for providing false information in federal documents, sources who requested anonymity told the Journal. Prosecutors say the BP employees may have given false information about the safety of drilling in the Deepwater Horizon oil well.
The Department of Justice could choose not to file any charges and may be using the prospect as a threat to pressure employees to cooperate with the investigation, the sources said.
Legal experts said BP could face a criminal charge for violating the federal Clean Water Act in addition to the roughly $36.6 million it has already been fined by U.S. regulators for safety violations.
BP spokesman Daren Beaudo declined to comment on the potential charges, though the company has said it believes the April 2010 oil rig explosion was caused by a combination of events and involved multiple parties, not just BP.
$16.5M Hot Lotto ticket turned in
DES MOINES, Iowa, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- A winning $16.5 million lottery ticket bought last year in Des Moines, Iowa, was turned in less than 2 hours before its expiration Thursday, officials said.
The Hot Lotto ticket was purchased at a QuikTrip convenience store in Des Moines Dec. 29, 2010, but no one had claimed the prize as the one-year deadline was to expire at 4 p.m., which would make the ticket worthless, the Iowa Lottery said Thursday.
Julie Johnson McLean of Des Moines law firm Davis, Brown, Koehn, Shors & Roberts presented the ticket on behalf of Hexam Investments Trust, with Crawford Shaw of Bedford, N.Y., as the trustee, the Iowa Lottery said in a news release.
Johnson McLean had the winning ticket validated today at lottery headquarters in Des Moines, the release said.
The Iowa Lottery had been flooded with calls as the deadline approached.
"It appears that the repeated reminders we've issued over the past year -- and the information that the media helped us distribute to the public -- worked as we had hoped, and brought in the winner just in the nick of time," Iowa Lottery Chief Executive Officer Terry Rich said in a news release.
The Iowa Lottery said the Hot Lotto winning numbers were 3, 12, 16, 26, 33 and Hot Ball number, 11.
Hot Lotto tickets are sold in 14 states and Washington, D.C.
On Monday, a $77 million prize for a Powerball ticket purchased in Georgia in the summer went unclaimed within the 180 days to come forward.