Scuffles disrupt Mubarak trial as police testify

CAIRO (Reuters) – Police officers testifying at the trial of Hosni Mubarak said yesterday 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 yesterday after the first hearing on August 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 February 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 August 15. The next session will take place on Wednesday, 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.”

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