FORMER PRESIDENT PLEADS NOT GUILTY

By NBF News
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Egypt's ex-President Hosni Mubarak has denied charges of corruption and ordering the killing of protesters, on the opening day of his trial in Cairo.

The ailing former strongman, once a symbol of autocratic rule in Egypt was wheeled into a Cairo courtroom cage in a hospital bed yesterday. Mubarak, 83, faces the death penalty if found guilty. He pleaded not guilty.

The trial, however, was adjourned until August 15, when the former dictator will return to court. The prosecutor said Mubarak 'had the intention to kill' peaceful protesters during an 18-day revolt that toppled him on February 11 and during the previous decade.

He accused Mubarak of allowing former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli to use live ammunition on protesters, and also charged him with corruption and wasting public funds. About 850 people were killed during the unrest.

But some analysts believe it will be difficult to nail Mubarak as there is no concrete evidence to show he ordered the killing of protesters. So far nobody has said he saw him giving orders nor has any soldier claimed he gave them order to kill. Mubarak was never seen at the scene of protests.

On corruption charges, the prosecutor is likely to have an uphill task linking Mubarak to the activities of government functionaries found wanting. Looking frail and gaunt, he was dressed in a white prison uniform and was placed in a mesh and iron cage, a standard procedure in Egyptian criminal trials. As the trial commenced, he peeked between the bars.

Other defendants, including his former interior minister and Mubarak's two sons, Gamal and Alaa, stood next to him in the cage at the corner of the crowded courtroom. His sons occasionally leaned over to talk to him.

A military council led by a long-serving defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, took over when Mubarak quit. It has promised a transition to democracy in the Arab world's most populous nation, a process far from complete.

Mubarak's lawyer asked for Tantawi to be summoned as a witness in the trial, echoing a demand lodged by Adli's counsel, who had also asked for former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and other political and military officials to testify.

The lawyer, Farid al-Deeb, said he wanted to summon a total of more than 1,600 witnesses, a proposal with the apparent potential to turn the trial into an interminable exercise.

Attempts to put Tantawi on the stand could embarrass the military, which had tried to distance itself from Mubarak. The trial marks a milestone for the Arab uprisings sweeping the region. Mubarak is the first Arab autocrat to face a judge. Tunisian President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia soon after his ouster and was tried in absentia.

The former leader arrived in Cairo after a short trip from his hospital in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh aboard a medically-equipped military aircraft. A white helicopter took him to the police academy on the outskirts of Cairo, where the proceedings were held.

A lawyer acting for families of the dead demanded execution for Adli, who is being tried alongside Mubarak, the ex-president's two sons Alaa and Gamal, and six former officers. Another lawyer demanded that Mubarak be moved to Torah prison, where the other defendants are held, from a hospital in Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea where he has been since April.

Opponents and supporters gathered at dawn to await the trial of the strongman, who ruled Egypt for three decades with an iron fist. As soon as he arrived at the police academy, the crowd went wild as the helicopter hovered. Some darted in its direction and clapped.

'Thirty years of corruption, at least we can see justice is taking place,' said a woman outside the police academy who did not want to be named. 'I don't know how Mubarak sleeps, when he was xresponsible for 80 million people and he did not do his job.'

In a sign of the nation's division over the trial, hundreds of opponents and supporters outside the venue waved flags and photos of Mubarak. They stood riveted to a big screen broadcasting the trial outside the venue. Gunfire erupted as supporters and opponents chased one another, hurling rocks and bottles. Several people were carried away in ambulances.

'How is the army letting this happen? Where is the unprecedented security they promised?' said Nevein Rashed as she ducked behind a van. When the brief clashes subsided, riot police stood watch as dozens of Mubarak supporters chanted. They wore T-shirts that read: 'I am Egyptian, I will not insult my president.'

'Mubarak is a symbol of Egypt,' said Entessar Ahmed, 14, who was outside the police academy. 'If there were 30 years of corruption during his time, then every Egyptian should be sentenced because they let it happen.'

Others welcomed the former leader's trial, but don't think anything will come of it.

'I believe that he will not be sent to jail. He will find a way to leave the country in one month,' said Basma Nasr, 20. 'I don't expect any verdict. I came here to watch this historic moment with other people. This has never happened before in Egypt.'

Amnesty International estimated that 840 people died and more than 6,000 were wounded in the three-week uprising that toppled Mubarak. A police officer accused of indiscriminately shooting protesters has been sentenced to death in absentia.

The former president, his interior minister, Habib El Adly, and six of the latter's assistants face trial on the same charges. A popular revolt forced Mubarak to step down February 11, leaving the nation under the control of a military council.

He has been hospitalized since suffering heart palpitations in April, but the nation's health officials declared last month that he is 'fit to stand trial, given a proper transportation arrangement.'

Former Cabinet minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer told Israeli Radio Wednesday that he had offered Mubarak refuge in the southern Israeli city of Eilat. 'Mubarak is a patriot and therefore turned down the offer,' Ben Eliezer said.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Arab language news network Al-Arabiya that he respected Mubarak and hopes Egypt's next government maintains its commitment to peace with his country.

'He held peace between Israel and Egypt for over 30 years, and that's a great achievement, and I think it should not be forgotten,' Netanyahu said.