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Tue 6 Sep 2011 12:26 PM

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Scuffle erupts during Mubarak's hearing in Cairo

Testifying police officers said they were not aware of orders to shoot at protesters during uprising

Scuffle erupts during Mubarak's hearing in Cairo
Protesters outside the Cairo court scuffled with police and voiced anger at the pace of the trial

Police officers testifying at the trial of Hosni Mubarak said on Monday they were not aware of orders to shoot at protesters, as scuffles erupted inside and outside the courtroom between supporters and opponents of the ousted Egyptian president.

Mubarak, 83, is charged with conspiring to kill protesters and "inciting" some officers to use live ammunition, in the first trial of an Arab leader in person since street unrest erupted across the Middle East early this year.

Protesters outside the Cairo court scuffled with police and voiced anger at the pace of the trial, which met for a third session on Monday after the first hearing on Aug. 3. "Prosecution, prosecution, we don't want delays," they chanted.

Many Egyptians say police used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition against protesters in Cairo and other cities. About 850 people died in the 18-day uprising that ousted Mubarak on Feb. 11.

Mubarak, hospitalised since April, was flown to the court by helicopter and wheeled on a gurney into a metal defendants' cage for the first session to hear witnesses.

Egyptians were riveted by images of Mubarak behind bars in the first two sessions. But the Judge Ahmed Refaat barred cameras from the trial after the last session on Aug. 15. The next session will take place on Sept. 7, state television reported.

"In my 30 years of experience with state security, I have not heard of any incident where an order was given to use live ammunition against protesters," General Hussein Saeed Mohamed Moussa, head of communication at the Interior Ministry, told the court.

Moussa, who was initially identified by state television as Mursi, said police were given guns and live ammunition to protect the Interior Ministry and prisons from attack.

Moussa, who was in the police operations room during the uprising, said he believed the decision to hand out live ammunition was made by a senior officer, Ahmed Ramzi, who is one of defendants.

Mubarak is standing trial alongside his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli and six senior officers, including Ramzi.

Asked if there were orders to fire live ammunition at the Interior Ministry site, Moussa said there were "very clear" orders to protect the ministry. He added that weapons were ferried by ambulances as police vehicles were targeted.

Three other senior officers testified. Two said the orders were to show "self restraint". One said he was not aware of the use of live ammunition to deal with protesters.

"What is happening today is a mockery. All the witnesses that came are not here to give testimonies of evidence," said Mabrouk Zidan, a lawyer representing families of three victims.

"This case has been cooked. The prosecution is complicit. They are going to get an innocent verdict," he told Reuters inside the courtroom, echoing comments by some other lawyers.

Lawyers of plaintiffs complained that witnesses gave different testimonies when they had been questioned before the trial by the prosecutor.

The proceedings were delayed when a Mubarak supporter lifted up a photo of the former president, angering relatives of victims of the uprising. A fight soon broke out in the courtroom and lawyers for plaintiffs also entered the fray before police broke up the scuffle.

Outside, supporters chanted: "He gave us 30 years of protection, Mubarak hold your head up high."

Nearby, anti-Mubarak protesters hurled stones at police lines and some officers threw rocks back. At one point police with shields and batons charged a group of demonstrators.

"He has to be hanged. We don't want any more delays in the court session," said Mohamed Essam, who had travelled to Cairo from the Nile Delta town of Kafr el-Sheikh.

A man with blood on his face shouted: "I call on the free Egyptian people, the youth of the revolution, to see what state security is doing with the revolutionaries."

Moussa described events on Jan. 28, one of the most violent days of the uprising, when he said police were ordered to prevent protesters reaching Tahrir Square, the centre of the protests.

"The orders were to deal with the protesters as the situation mandated and the freedom was left to them to deal with protesters in a manner that they saw fit," Moussa said.

Wael Bahgat, a lawyer representing the family of a victim, told reporters outside the court during a break that the term "'in a manner they saw fit' means shotgun cartridges, live bullets, water and tear gas."