CAIRO | Mon Sep 5, 2011 8:16am EDT
(Reuters) – Supporters and opponents of deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak scuffled on Monday inside and outside the court staging his trial on charges of corruption and killings of protesters, and a top police officer delivered the first witness testimony.
Police had to break up a tussle inside the chamber between some of the scores of lawyers on hand, plaintiffs and supporters of Mubarak, toppled in a popular uprising in February and in hospital since April with heart problems and other ailments.
The 83-year-old Mubarak, who was wheeled on a gurney into a metal defendants’ cage in the court, is the first Arab leader to stand trial in person since street unrest erupted across the Middle East earlier this year.
Judge Ahmed Refaat banned live television coverage of the trial in the Police Academy in Cairo after the first two sessions when Egyptians watched riveted as their former president lay behind bars.
The trial has stoked tension between those who brought Mubarak down after three decades in office and his supporters.
Inside the court, people present said a fight broke out when a Mubarak supporter lifted up a photo of the former president, angering relatives of victims of the uprising. Lawyers for plaintiffs also entered the fray.
Police stepped in to separate them, those in court said.
Agitation inside the court prompted the judge to call a recess, briefly delaying plans to hear the witness accounts by four senior police officers.
Outside, anti-Mubarak protesters hurled stones at police lines and some officers threw rocks back. At one point police with shields and batons charged a group of demonstrators.
“He has to be hanged. We don’t want any more delays in the court session,” said Mohamed Essam, who had traveled to Cairo from the Nile Delta town of Kafr el-Sheikh.
A man with blood on his face shouted: “I call on the free Egyptian people, the youth of the revolution, to see what state security is doing with the revolutionaries.”
Nearby, supporters held up posters of the ex-president and chanted: “He gave us 30 years of protection, Mubarak hold your head up high.”
Scuffles between pro- and anti-Mubarak demonstrators and police also marred the two previous trial sessions.
The first witness to take the stand was top police official, General Hussein Saeed Mohamed Mursi, head of communication in the state security service.
He told the court police were instructed to use tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters on the night of January 25, when protests against Mubarak erupted, state television said.
Gamal Eid, a lawyer representing 16 of some 850 people killed in the uprising, earlier told Reuters Mursi worked in the police operations room during the uprising and had been accused of deleting recordings of what happened in the room at that time.
“(Mursi) had been accused in a decision issued by the general prosecutor of deleting those recordings but he later turned into a witness,” Eid said.
The three other witnesses to be called by the court are police officers who were in the operations room during the 18 days of protests. The court named them as Emad Badr Saeed, Bassim Mohamed el-Otaify and Mahmoud Galal Abdel Hamid.
Lawyers said the decision to ban live television coverage would prevent witnesses being influenced by each other or the public.
Mubarak is on trial with his sons Gamal, once seen as a future president, and Alaa, a businessman, as well as former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli and six police officers.
Ten Kuwaiti lawyers said they were joining the defense team for Mubarak on Monday. Al Jazeera television said that they had not been allowed into the court when the trial began.
Some of the Kuwaiti lawyers said they were making a gesture of gratitude to Mubarak for his support for a U.S.-led coalition that expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991.
A news conference held by the Kuwaiti lawyers on Sunday descended into chaos when supporters of Mubarak attacked a journalist, scratching his arms and beating him after he asked why the Kuwaitis were defending the ousted president.