Mubarak Trial Adjourned Amid Chaotic Scenes

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Al Jazeera

Mubarak Trial Adjourned Amid Chaotic Scenes

Trial against toppled Egyptian leader to resume next month but judge says proceedings will no longer be televised

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Egyptian anti-Mubarak protesters react as they watch Mubarak behind bars on a giant screen outside a police academy court in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Aug.15, 2011. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

The trial of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's former president, who faces charges over the deaths of protesters during the uprising that led to his toppling earlier this year, has been adjourned until next month amid chaotic scenes in a Cairo court

Trial judge Ahmed Rifaat said the court would reconvene on September 5 to hear evidence. He also ruled that the trial, which was being broadcast live by many channels and on big screens outside the court, should not be televised until sentencing.

Rifaat also ordered that Mubarak's trial should be merged with proceedings against his former interior minister, Habib al-Adly, whose trial had already been adjourned until September 5.

Mubarak, 83, who has mostly been confined to hospital since he was toppled by mass protests in February, was wheeled into the Cairo court on a stretcher as the trial resumed on Monday morning.

Dressed in a navy blue sports sweater, Mubarak appeared inside the courtroom in a caged defendants' box, along with his sons, Gamal and Alaa, who face corruption charges, and answered, "Present", when the judge called his name.

Scores of lawyers representing some of those killed during the protests that toppled Mubarak are attending the trial and Refaat struggled to maintain order amid chaotic scenes as the court convened.

Hundreds of riot police stood guard outside the court but scuffles broke out between supporters of the former president and those demanding that Mubarak be held responsible for those killed in the final weeks of his rule.

Defence lawyers have called for hundreds of witnesses to testify in the case, including the head of Egypt's ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who was Mubarak's defence minister for two decades.

Tantawi's possible testimony on the former president's role in trying to suppress the 18-day uprising, in which more than 800 people were killed, is considered critical by many to the outcome of the case.

"Tantawi's testimony would help the court determine whether Mubarak gave orders to interior minister Habib al-Adly to fire at protesters or whether Adly was acting independently," said one member of the defence team, who asked not to be named.

Lawyers for the families of those killed have also demanded Tantawi testify in the trial.

"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.

Reactions

Inside the courthouse, the audience which included lawyers of the victims' families, erupted in applause and cheer at Rifaat's announcement of merging the two cases of Adly and Mubarak.

The merge was "clearly a very satisfying decision" for Pro- and anti-Mubarak protesters congregated outside the courthouse, Al Jazeera correspondent Rawya Rageh reported, as they shouted in unison "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great").

But Rifaat's decision to stop broadcasts of future proceedings conjured much anger from the crowd with many jumping onto the pews to shout at the judge.

Outside the courthouse the reaction was more muted, Rageh said, as no chants or boos were heard.

"Legal experts have made abundantly clear ahead of the proceedings that it was expected for the court to stop live broadcasts of the proceedings when the cour twas going to start listening to witnesses' testimonies," Rageh said.

"It would simply be illegal for them to be broadcasting the sessions live as they do not want the witnesses to hear what each other are saying.

"Probably after the phase of listening to the witnesses and when it's time to utter the verdict, we will be seeing the trial broadcast live once again."

Scuffles and chaos

Some 5,000 riot police officers were deployed along with armoured cars outside the courthouse to keep apart scores of pro- and anti-Mubarak protesters gathered to rally and to watch the proceedings of the trial on a giant screen.

The police had separated the two crowds with cordons but brief clashes broke out when one pro-Mubarak protester crossed over into the other group and engaged in a conversation with his counterpart which escalated into a fight, Rageh reported from the scene.

"Security officials have managed to push everyone as far away as possible ... but the situation remains tense," she reported.

"People are carrying stones, rocks, batons and others are seen trying to come up with things to throw."

Several men were bleeding from the head from wounds obtained when hit by thrown stones and rocks. Police withhelds crowds of women fighting

Inside the courthouse, lawyers for the relatives of the slain protesters shouted and bickered before the judge arrived in the room, apparently over seats.

Meanwhile, Mubarak laid on the stretcher looking composed and stern, with hands clasped over his chest. An intravenous needle was implanted in his left hand.

Amr Shalakany, a professor at Cairo University's law school, said the trial scenes were a "circus" full of drama often seen on "Ramadan TV soap operas".

"One, he does not look that sick and the whole stretcher business is once again, like what you see on Ramadan TV soap operas," Shalakany told Al Jazeera.

"[Mubarak's] hair is being dyed black, which doesn't indicate any kind of deep depression that he has said he suffers from," he said.

"His facial expressions are those of not just defiance but fundamentally looking down at the entire process."

Mubarak made his first court appearance on August 3 in a case that has gripped the Arab world.

The first Arab head of state to stand trial in person since popular uprisings swept the Middle East, the former air force commander faces charges that could carry the death penalty.

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