Court Adjourns Mubarak’s Trial for Three Weeks, Halts Television Broadcasts


Egypt's ousted president Hosni Mubarak, bound to a stretcher and caged, appeared in court on Monday before the judge announced a three-week adjournment and an end to live television broadcasts.

The judge, Ahmed Refaat, also decided that the trial of Mubarak and his former interior minister, Habib al-Adly, would be merged, as demanded by the lawyers of families of those killed in Egypt's January-February uprising.

Refaat put a halt to live television broadcasts of the trial, which opened on August 3 with a brief session held on Monday that went into recess before the adjournment to September 5 was announced.

Mubarak was earlier flown in by helicopter and then driven in an ambulance to the court at a police academy in a Cairo suburb.

Thousands of riot police were deployed along with armored cars outside the court to keep apart pro- and anti-Mubarak demonstrators watching the trial second's session on a giant screen.

But an Agence France Presse reporter said scuffles and stone-throwing erupted between the two groups, with at least five people lightly injured.

At the opening session, Mubarak pleaded not guilty of the premeditated murder of protesters who took to the streets to oust his regime in an uprising which erupted on January 25.

Mubarak, as in the first hearing, was placed reclined on the stretcher in the dock, exchanging brief words inside the cage with his two sons and co-defendants on graft charges, Gamal and Alaa.

They have also pleaded innocent to the graft accusations.

As proceedings resumed when judge Ahmed Refaat sat down, the former president lay with hands clenched together across his chest, while his two sons tried to shield him from the television cameras.

Mubarak confirmed his presence in a low voice, while the judge called for silence from the dozens of arm-waving lawyers packed into the courtroom.

The 83-year-old former leader is accused of involvement in the killings of hundreds of anti-regime activists during the revolt which on February 11 ended his three decades in power.

He is being held in a military hospital on the outskirts of Cairo.

Mubarak's dramatic appearance in court last week came as a shock to Egyptians who watched the proceedings on live television. Few believed he would ever be seen in court.

Defense lawyer Farid al-Deeb has asked judge Refaat to call 1,600 witnesses, including top military officials.

The military was called out on January 28, after protesters torched police stations across the country, and took charge on February 11 when Mubarak resigned.

Ahmed Mekki, a retired deputy head of Cairo's appeals court, said the trial would move on to investigating the evidence and calling witnesses, first for the prosecution and then for the defense.

But the court would probably cull the list of witnesses demanded by Deeb, which would provide him with solid ground for appealing a possible guilty verdict, said one of the lawyers representing victims in civil suits.

"If the court does not listen to all the witnesses, it will give grounds for appeal," said Taher Abu Nasr, whose Front for the Defense of Egyptian Protesters represents 35 plaintiffs.

Most of the lawyers have yet to review the thousands of documents of evidence that have been provided by the court, some say belatedly.

But judging by the cases of dozens of police commanders who face charges or are on trial over alleged crimes during the revolt, they fear the evidence against Mubarak to be patchy and ill-prepared.

Legal experts say that a thorough investigation into Mubarak's alleged crimes should have taken several more months, but the military and the government expedited the process to mollify protesters.

On Sunday, Adly's trial was adjourned to September 5 after a turbulent session.

The hearing was suspended four times in three hours by judge Refaat, who was visibly exasperated by a long list of demands presented by the lawyers of shooting victims.

More than 850 people were killed in the 18 days that led to Mubarak's ouster, and thousands more were wounded.