EGYPT
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Mohammed Mursi

Egypt's Mursi defiant in first court appearance since ouster by military

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 2:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 12:05pm

After four months in secret detention, Egypt's deposed Islamist president defiantly rejected a court's authority to try him yesterday, saying he was the country's "legitimate" leader and those that overthrew him should face charges instead. The trial was then adjourned until January 8 after several interruptions.

President Mohammed Mursi, Egypt's first freely elected president, had been held at an undisclosed location since the military ousted him in a coup on July 3.

Looking healthy, Mursi appeared in court wearing a dark blue suit, but no tie. He had refused to wear a prison uniform as the judge had ordered, according to security officials.

Mursi and 14 co-defendants, prominent figures from his Muslim Brotherhood, face charges of inciting the killing of protesters who massed outside the presidential palace in December, demanding he call off a referendum on a new constitution drafted by his Islamist allies.

Brotherhood members attacked a sit-in by the protesters, sparking clashes that left 10 people dead. If convicted, Mursi and the 14 other defendants could face the death penalty.

The longtime Brotherhood leader rejected the proceedings and said he had been forced to attend. "This is a military coup whose leaders must be put on trial in accordance with the constitution," Mursi told the court.

"I am the president of the republic and I am here against my will," he said. "What is happening here is providing cover for the military coup," he said, as his co-defendants chanted "down, down with military coup."

The raucous session reflected the highly charged atmosphere of a nation deeply polarised between Mursi's Islamist supporters, and the military-backed administration and moderate Egyptians who support it.

The start of the hearing was delayed by nearly two hours over what the officials said was a dispute over Mursi's refusal to wear a prison uniform, part of his rejection of the trial's legitimacy.

The judge, Ahmed Sabry Youssef, had to adjourn the hearing twice because the chants disrupted the proceedings. The proceedings were adjourned until January 8 to allow defence lawyers to review documents, the court's secretary said. Defence lawyers said the judge has ruled that they have access to their clients in prison.

It was not immediately clear where Mursi was taken after the adjournment. State TV initially reported he was to be transferred to the main prison in Cairo where his co-defendants are being held. But later it reported he was being taken to a prison in the desert near Alexandria.

Rights advocates have expressed concern about the fairness of the trial, as it is taking place in the atmosphere of a widescale crackdown on the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies in which several thousand have been arrested and hundreds killed. The judicial system also is stacked with Mursi's adversaries, with whom he clashed repeatedly during his year-long presidency.

Security was tight around the police academy, with hundreds of black-clad riot police backed by armoured vehicles deployed around the sprawling complex. The final stretch of road leading to the academy was sealed off to the public.

The academy is also being used for the retrial of former president Hosni Mubarak, charged with failing to stop the killing of some 900 protesters during the 18-day uprising that toppled his 29-year regime. But unlike Mubarak's first trial, the proceedings against Mursi were not aired live.

Several hundred Mursi supporters rallied outside the police academy, carrying posters with his photo and banners depicting an open palm with four fingers - the symbol commemorating a pro-Mursi sit-in that was violently cleared by security forces in August. They also chanted slogans against General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, the military chief who led the July coup.

Police fired in the air to separate them from Mursi's opponents. They used tear gas to end clashes between the two sides outside a major court complex in Cairo's downtown area. Police also used tear gas to disperse thousands of Mursi supporters in the southern city of Assiut.