Egypt's Mursi drops complaints against journalists

* Move shows respect for freedom of expression -spokesman

* Does not affect arrest of satirist

CAIRO, April 10 (Reuters) - Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi

has ordered the withdrawal of legal complaints filed by the

presidency against journalists, in a move that appeared aimed at

fending off accusations of a crackdown on dissent by the

Islamist-led authorities.

Mursi withdrew the complaints out of respect for freedom of

expression, presidential spokesman Ehab Fahmy said.

Mursi is under international pressure to work for consensus

and stability while Egypt seeks aid from the International

Monetary Fund to ease an economic crisis. On Monday his

government appeared to be heeding some of the concerns of the

liberal and leftist opposition by announcing moves to amend the

new constitution.

However, the latest legal move does not apply to complaints

filed independently by Mursi loyalists against journalists and

media figures.

These include complaints that led to an arrest warrant being

issued against the popular satirist Bassem Youssef. He is

accused of insulting the president and Islam in a probe that has

added to concern inside and outside Egypt about freedom of

expression in the post-Hosni Mubarak era.

The United States, which supplies Egypt with some $1.5

billion a year in aid, most of it for the military, last week

accused Cairo of muzzling freedom.

The U.S. State Department also suggested the authorities

were selectively prosecuting those accused of insulting the

government while ignoring or playing down attacks on

anti-government demonstrators.

"It is a half step. It remains for the members of the

president's party to stop trying to intimidate journalists,"

said Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer who has documented such

cases. He said the presidency had filed three of some two dozen

cases alleging insults against Mursi since he came to office

last June as Egypt's first freely elected president.

The presidency has also been heavily critical of what it

describes as false news published by independently-owned media

that are broadly critical of Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Earlier this year, Al-Masry Al-Youm, one of Egypt's most

widely read independent newspapers, said its editor had been

investigated by the prosecutor's office after a formal complaint

from the presidency about an inaccurate story on Mursi's

movements.

Mursi has said he respects freedom of expression. The

presidency has pointed to his banning of pre-trial detention of

journalists as proof of his commitment to a free press.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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