CAIRO: A lawyer for Egypt’s former interior minister asked the court on Saturday to have Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei testify as a witness in his client’s defense.
Mohamed El-Gendi, an attorney for Habib El-Adly, said ElBaradei could testify that security forces from the interior ministry protected him and ensured he arrived home safely during the most violent day of the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
ElBaradei, an outspoken critic of the Mubarak regime as well as Egypt’s current military rulers, could not be immediately reached for comment.
El-Adly is charged along with Mubarak and four police commanders of complicity in the killing of protesters during the 18-day revolt last January and February. They could face the death penalty if convicted. Mubarak and his two sons are facing separate charges of corruption in the same case.
El-Gendi, who has five days to present his arguments, was addressing the court on the one-year anniversary of Egypt’s "Day of Rage," in which hundreds of protesters were killed and wounded in clashes with police.
Several hundred protesters prayed on Cairo’s Qasr El-Nil bridge Saturday, which spans the Nile River, for those killed a year ago. The bridge was the scene of some of the most violent confrontations with security forces as protesters pushed their way to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the anti-Mubarak revolt. The gathering was one of a number of rallies and protests this week marking the year anniversary — and pushing demands for the ruling military to cede power.
Police used live ammunition, fired water cannons and rammed people with armored police vehicles on the bridge a year ago before the security forces, which were run by El-Adly, collapsed and disappeared from the streets.
Adel Abdullah, a 31-year-old, was in tears. He said he lost his friend on the bridge last year. "I am sad for those who died and what is happening now. So long as the military council is in power, nothing will change in this country."
At the trial Saturday, El-Gendi compared Mubarak to former US President George W. Bush, saying that the US leader was responsible for wars that led to the deaths of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan and was never tried in court.
"Mubarak is being tried even though he never said he ordered the shootings," El-Gendi said.
Earlier this week, El-Gendi claimed the US and Israel plotted the killings of protesters and accused security guards at the American University in Cairo of opening fire on the demonstrations. The university, which has a building that borders Tahrir Square, immediately issued a denial.
Only one policeman has been convicted in more than a dozen court cases over the death of at least 846 people killed in the government crackdown on protesters. He was tried in absentia, and upon his return to Egypt recently, he was granted a retrial.
El-Adly’s defense team has until Wednesday to present its arguments to the court. Mubarak’s lawyer wrapped up his defense earlier, while other defendants have until Feb. 16. Verdicts are not expected soon.
A year after the anti-Mubarak uprising, the activists who led it are now leading protests against the military, which they say is balking at real reform and is as dictatorial as Mubarak. They demand that the generals hand power immediately to civilians, but they have struggled to propose a solid alternative to the military’s timetable.
The generals say they will cede power by the end of June, but many fear they will try to keep some form of political influence.
In an attempt to present a unified position, nearly 40 youth groups Saturday put forward a new initiative pressing for presidential elections by April 11 so the military can hand power to the winner.
The proposal calls on the newly elected parliament to manage and organize the presidential elections, and not leave it in the hands of a military-appointed commission.
The groups said they will not accept a constitution to be written or a president to be elected under the watch of the military rule. Under the current timetable, parliament is to form a panel to write the constitution and the presidential vote is to be held before the end-of-June handover.
"The real danger for the revolution today is to have the first constitution for the country after the revolution in the shadow of military rule," the groups said. It said the military wants to ensure the constitution puts it "above the law and above accountability" and preserves its "huge economic empire." –AP correspondent Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report.