Scuffles Interrupt Mubarak Trial

Scuffles inside and outside the courtroom interrupted the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, which resumed Cairo on Monday. There was startling testimony from a police general who said there were no orders to shoot anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

In Egypt today, the trial of former President Hosni Mubarak resumed. And according to Egyptian officials, violence both outside and inside the courtroom left a dozen people injured. Witnesses testified for the first time during the daylong hearing. Today's focus: Who ordered police to fatally shoot about 850 protesters during the uprising against the former leader?

Unlike earlier court sessions, this one was not broadcast on Egyptian television. The judge banned live coverage to put a stop to courtroom theatrics by the lawyers.

But as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Cairo, today's session proved more chaotic than the previous two.

(SOUNDBITE OF A NEWS BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Egyptian state television showed a frail Mubarak being wheeled in a hospital bed into the police compound here, where the trial is being held.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

NELSON: Nearby, protesters called for his execution while anxious relatives of the victims tried in vain to follow the former president inside. They wanted to hear whether witnesses would back prosecution claims that Mubarak gave the order for their loved ones to be shot.

One family member was Iman Sayed Ali, whose son and only child was killed on January 28th.

IMAN SAYED ALI: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: She says her son will have died for nothing if Mubarak isn't convicted. She was hoping today's testimony would help bring him to justice. But the hearing provided Egyptians with more drama than substance.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

NELSON: Pro- and anti-Mubarak protesters outside the compound fought each other and threw rocks. Inside the courtroom, the scene also turned violent. Observers via Twitter described lawyers pummeling each other after someone raised a picture of Mubarak. Police broke up the fight and the judge ordered a recess before calling the first witness, a former general for the central security forces that fired on protesters.

But Hussein Said al Mursy failed to deliver the smoking gun that so many here are waiting for. He said he was unaware of any orders from Mubarak, or his Interior minister, to shoot at protesters or to use live ammunition. He and others testified they were told to use tear gas, batons and water cannons to disperse protesters. Another witness said that he was told to fire in the air, or hit protesters in the legs with rubber bullets. The witnesses said their orders came from the head of their unit, former General Ahmed Ramzy.

Khaled Fahmy is the chair of the American University in Cairo's History Department, and is closely following the trial.

KHALED FAHMY: We know that the protocol says that it's only the president who can issue these orders. Some people say it is not the president but the minister. And now, they're pushing it further down by basically saying it is the deputy minister who is the head of the security forces, who actually issued the order without the minister knowing. So that's basically the question: Where does the buck stop?

NELSON: The testimony was frustrating to protesters who were attacked, like Sarah Abdel-Rahman.

SARAH ABDEL-RAHMAN: It's basically the biggest case in Egypt's history and, you know, everyone is very careful about what they're saying.

NELSON: She says Egyptians need Mubarak to be held accountable.

ABDEL-RAHMAN: Even if he didn't know that Ahmed Ramzy ordered people to have live ammunition, then this in itself is a problem.

NELSON: Meanwhile, the judge a short while ago ordered the session adjourned until Wednesday.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

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