By Jo Anne Bladd
Street clashes erupt as former ruler of Egypt stand trial over killing of protesters
Street clashes broke out on Monday as ousted Egyptian
president Hosni Mubarak returned to court to face charges over the killing of
protesters, the first Arab leader to stand trial in person since popular
uprisings began sweeping the Middle East.
A helicopter landed near the court and shortly afterwards
the ailing Mubarak, aged 83 and wearing a navy blue sports sweater, was wheeled
on a gurney into the courtroom's steel cage for the second session of his
Hundreds of riot police stood guard but clashes erupted
between a crowd of Mubarak supporters outside the building and a group
demanding justice for those killed in the uprising that toppled him six months
"The thief has arrived!" shouted the anti-Mubarak
protesters, drawing whistles from his supporters.
"Judge wake up! Mubarak killed my brothers! Execute the
killer!" shouted others.
The pro-Mubarak crowd threw stones, the police cordon
dividing them broke and the Mubarak supporters chased their opponents away from
the court building.
In a courtroom packed with excited lawyers, Mubarak looked
composed and stern, hands clasped over his chest. An intravenous needle was
implanted in his left hand. He was not wearing the regulation white clothes of
He exchanged a few words with his sons Alaa and Gamal, also
on trial and in the same cage with their father. They sought to shield him from
cameras and one of them kissed Mubarak on the forehead to comfort him.
Judge Ahmed Refaat called Mubarak's name and he answered,
"Present." Refaat appealed for calm, ordering them to sit down to
allow proceedings to begin.
The hearing could decide if the head of the ruling military
council will take the stand as a witness.
Defence lawyers say that any testimony by Field Marshal
Mohamed Hussein Tantawi on Mubarak's role in trying to suppress the 18-day
uprising, in which about 850 people were killed, could decide the
Tantawi, who was defence minister for two decades under
Mubarak, heads the military council that took power when Mubarak was ousted on
Feb. 11 by the mass protests.
Tantawi's military council has promised a transition to
democracy in the Arab world's most populous country - a process far from
complete and, the pro-reform camp says, vulnerable to high-level obstruction.
A Reuters reporter saw the crowds outside the court building
form piles of stones to throw at each other. One protester attacked a
policeman. Then police jumped on him and beat him.
"All this hatred is because we let an evil man rule us
for 30 years," a senior police officer told Reuters without giving his
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For generations, Arab world leaders ruled for life and were
seldom held to account. But Mubarak now stands accused of authorising the use
of live ammunition to quell protests, of corruption and abuse of power.
The charges against the former air force commander could
carry the death penalty. He denied all accusations during the opening session,
which was aired live and counted as his first public appearance since Feb. 11.
Medical reports issued after Mubarak was taken to a hospital
following initial questioning in April said he was suffering from heart
problems, depression and fainting fits.
"I want people to read their history and know what this
great man has done for us. He kept Egypt stable. He has been humiliated but he
is weathering the storm with pride," said Ehab Sameh, 30, outside the
Mubarak's lawyer Farid al-Deeb demanded that the case be
postponed to give him time to view all the documents submitted to court.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs asked the judge to split the trial to consider
separately the charges over killings from those surrounding graft in gas
exports to Israel.
The judge ordered a recess to consider the requests.
Around 850 people were killed during the uprising and over
6,000 wounded when security forces fired live rounds, rubber bullets and used
water cannon and batons against the protesters.
In the first court session, lawyers on both sides asked for
Tantawi, former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and about 1,600 others to
testify as witnesses.
"Tantawi's testimony would help the court determine
whether Mubarak gave orders to Interior Minister Habib al-Adli to fire at
protesters or whether Adli was acting independently," said a member of the
defence team, who asked not to be named.
A judge on Sunday set the next hearing for Adli and six of
his lieutenants for Sept. 5.
Lawyers for the families of those killed have also demanded
that Tantawi testify.
Asked if Tantawi could appear as a witness, legal expert
Mahmoud Khoudeiry said testimony from any army officer would be aired live
unless there are specific security concerns.
"It is important for the court to meet the requests of
the defence team, especially the request to hear the accounts of ... Tantawi in
court to determine whether Mubarak asked him to confront and fire at protesters
or not," the lawyer said.
"The defence team sees Tantawi as a compurgator, or a
witness whose testimony would exonerate Mubarak. The plaintiffs' lawyers,
however, expect him to testify that he received orders to fire, which is
necessary to convict Mubarak," another lawyer handling the case said.
Essam Soltan, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, said Refaat
would ask lawyers to justify their request to summon Tantawi to testify before
ruling on it.
The cases of the defendants are interlinked and each could
accuse his superior of giving the orders to fire, thus weakening the case
against Mubarak, Soltan said.
The military said officers called in by the judge to give
their testimony would attend.
But a judicial source said that even if Tantawi were asked
to testify, it would happen later in the trial to shield the army from taking
the heat in the controversial case.