Egypt military ruler testifies in Mubarak trial

Tantawi gives testimony, leaves before prosecution arrives for cross examination; trial adjourns for policemen in Khaled Said killing.

Tantawi 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Tantawi 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Egypt's ruling military council head testified in the trial of Hosni Mubarak on Saturday in a hearing that could decide the fate of the ex-president accused of responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of demonstrators earlier this year.
Lawyers representing some of the 850 people killed in the uprising that overthrew Mubarak complained Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi gave evidence earlier than usual and left the courthouse without allowing them to cross examine him.
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"The measures were unusual... The session started very early," attorney Wael Zekri told reporters. "By the time the lawyers arrived, the testimony was over," he added.
There was no immediate comment on the charges.
The ruling military council has been under pressure to deliver swift justice for those killed during the popular uprising which culminated with Mubarak stepping down on Feb. 11.
The former president, the ex-Interior Minister Habib al-Adli and some police officers are charged with conspiring to kill some of the protesters.
Mubarak, the first Arab head of state to stand trial in person since unrest erupted across the Middle East this year, denies the charges.
Judge Ahmed Refaat, citing national security considerations, had ordered that Tantawi's testimony be heard behind closed doors and under a complete news blackout.
Tantawi had been due to testify on Sept. 11, but failed to attend the session citing a crisis triggered by demonstrators trying to storm the Israeli embassy in Cairo, a move that forced the Jewish state to withdraw its ambassador. Many Egyptians feared Tantawi would not testify.
But the military council head, who had served for 20 years as Mubarak's defence minister, on Friday confirmed he was attending the hearing due to the special significance of the case.
The state news agency MENA quoted Tantawi as saying that while military officers do not appear except at military trials, he wanted to "assert the rule of law which must be the guiding approach for the Egyptian state after the Jan. 25 revolution".
Former intelligence chief and briefly vice president Omar Suleiman and Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy testified behind closed doors last week.
Egypt's armed forces chief of staff, Sami Enan, Tantawi's deputy on the ruling military council, was scheduled to testify on Sunday, also behind closed doors.
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Another trial, that of two policemen accused of beating an Egyptian activist, whose death contributed to an uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February, was adjourned on Saturday.
The judge set a hearing for Oct. 22, witnesses said, to allow lawyers to study a forensic report submitted by a team of medical experts who had examined the corpse of Khaled Said to determine the cause of his death.
Witnesses and rights activists have said that Said, 28, died in the port city of Alexandria in June last year after two policemen dragged him out of an internet cafe and beat him. Egyptian authorities said he died after choking on drugs.
Before he died Said posted an internet video purportedly showing two policemen sharing the spoils of a drug bust. His death became a rallying cry for activists behind the Jan. 25 uprising that culminated with Mubarak's ouster on Feb. 11.