Egypt's ousted strongman Mubarak goes on trial

CAIRO, Aug 3, 2011 (AFP) - Months after an uprising ended his 30-year-rule, Egypt's ex-president Hosni Mubarak goes on trial Wednesday on murder charges, in a historic moment for the Arab region whose leaders are rarely held to account.

The plane carrying Mubarak left Sharm el-Sheikh, where he was in hospital custody, en route to Cairo, state television reported.

AFP - A supporter Hosni Mubarak holds his picture outside the police academy where Mubarak's trial is held on the outskirt of Cairo on August 3, 2011

Barbed wire was erected outside the Police Academy where Mubarak will face trial and more than a dozen riot police trucks secured the entrances, an AFP reporter said.

Dozens of Mubarak loyalists clashed briefly with opponents outside the court, pelting each other with stones, before being quickly separated by security forces.

The former president, 83, is due to appear in court at the police academy in a Cairo suburb along with his two sons Alaa and Gamal amid one of the biggest security operations in the country's recent history.

The trial is expected to start at 0700 GMT in an auditorium that has been fitted with a large black cage to hold the defendants, including former interior minister Habib al-Adly, on whom Mubarak relied to quell the revolt that overthrew him, and six police commanders.

Businessman Hussein Salem, a close associate of the Mubaraks, is being tried in absentia in the same case.

The defendants are accused of stealing millions of dollars from the state and ordering the killing of anti-regime protesters during the January 25 uprising that led to the downfall of the Mubarak regime.

More than 1,000 police and soldiers will secure the complex and vet about 600 lawyers and journalists granted permission to attend.

Mubarak will also face some relatives of the victims killed during the revolt, allegedly on his orders.

He has been under arrest for several months in a hospital in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he is being treated for a heart condition.

For weeks, it seemed likely that Mubarak, who doctors say refused to leave his hospital bed, would be tried in Sharm el-Sheikh, but the justice ministry announced last week that the trial will be held in Cairo.

His lawyer, Farid al-Deeb, will argue that Mubarak is too sick to stand trial and that he did not sanction the brutal crackdown on protesters that left more than 850 people dead by the time Mubarak resigned on February 11.

Deeb claimed that Mubarak suffers from cancer and went into a coma last month, which the hospital denied. One of his doctors told AFP the ex-president was stable, but extremely depressed and weak after refusing food for several days.

Deeb's announcements appear to have been intended to increase sympathy for Mubarak and spare him the indignity of appearing in the defendants' cage.

But the interior and health ministers have both said they were preparing to ensure Mubarak's attendance, which would go a long way toward assuring sceptics that he will face justice.

The military, which assumed power after Mubarak's resignation, is keen to prove it harbours no lingering loyalties to the former president.

"We do not want to see tension among the people in the street because of Mubarak's absence," Interior Minister Mansur Essawy told an Egyptian newspaper on Tuesday.

The trial will be the latest in a string of legal proceedings against members of the Mubarak era.

Several ministers have already been sentenced to jail in corruption cases, including Adly, sentenced to 12 years in jail for corruption.

Mubarak is the second Arab leader to be overthrown in the unrest that has swept North Africa and the Middle East since the beginning of this year.

Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled his country in January after a popular revolt, has already been twice convicted and sentenced in absentia for possession of arms, drugs and archaeological artefacts and for misappropriating public funds.

Mubarak's court appearance will be the first ever trial of an Arab leader overthrown by a popular rebellion.

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