Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak appeared on a stretcher for the opening of his murder trial in Cairo on Wednesday, as his two sons stood by his side in the dock.
Mr. Mubarak denied charges that he was involved in the killing of protesters and other corruption charges in the trial.
“I entirely deny all those accusations,” Mr. Mubarak said speaking from the bed where he lay inside a cage for defendants in the Cairo court. His two sons, Gamal and Alaa, both holding copies of the Muslim holy book the Koran, also denied charges.
Mubarak, looking pale and dressed in white, could be seen talking to his sons. Former interior minister Habib Al Adly and six of his deputies are being tried in the same case.
Businessman Hussein Salem, a close associate of the Mubaraks, is being tried in absentia in the same case.
It was Mubarak’s first public appearance since he was ousted by a popular uprising on February 11.
The judge said the session, broadcast live on the Egyptian state television, would be conducted “in complete calm,” warning that he would throw out anyone seen to disrupt the proceedings.
Earlier, a helicopter carrying Egypt’s former president arrived at the Police Academy on the outskirts of Cairo where his trial over conspirig to kill protesters is being held, state television reported.
Television footage showed an ambulance driving up to the courthouse, amid intense security and a heavy army presence.
Crowds of security and other people surrounded the vehicle and blocked images of Mubarak leaving the ambulance.
Outside the trial venue, scuffles broke out between supporters and opponents of the ex-president, according to Al Arabiya correspondent in Cairo.
Security was extremely heavy outside the courtroom, which has been set up in what was once named the Mubarak Police Academy in the capital Cairo. Hundreds of policemen in gleaming white uniforms separated clashing demonstrators, who hurled stones and bottles at each other, The Associated Press reported.
Before the clashes erupted, some 50 of Mubarak’s supporters chanting slogans and holding portraits of the former leader gathered outside the trial venue.
“We will demolish and burn the prison if they convict Mubarak,” they screamed at hundreds of police and army troops backed by armored personnel carriers.
The defendants are all accused of stealing millions of dollars from the state and ordering the killing of anti-regime protesters during the January 25 uprising that brought down the Mubarak regime.
More than 1,000 police and soldiers will secure the complex and vet about 600 lawyers and journalists who have received permission to attend.
Mubarak will also face some relatives of the victims killed during the revolt, allegedly on his orders.
He has been under arrest for several months in a hospital in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh, where he is being treated for a heart condition.
For weeks, it seemed likely that Mubarak, who doctors say refused to leave his hospital bed, would be tried in Sharm al-Sheikh, but the justice ministry announced last week that the trial will be held in Cairo.
His lawyer, Farid al-Deeb, will argue that Mubarak is too sick to stand trial and that he did not sanction the brutal crackdown on protesters that left more than 850 people dead by the time Mubarak resigned on February 11.
Deeb claimed that Mubarak suffers from cancer and went into a coma last week, which the hospital denied. One of his doctors told AFP the ex-president was stable, but extremely depressed and weak after he refused food for several days.
Deeb’s announcements appear to have been intended to increase sympathy for Mubarak and to spare him the indignity of having to appear in the defendants’ cage.
The military, which assumed power after his resignation, is keen to prove that it harbors no lingering loyalties to the former president.
“We do not want to see tension among the people in the street because of Mubarak’s absence,” Interior Minister Mansur Essawy told an Egyptian newspaper on Tuesday.
“If you feel sympathy for any dictator broken and standing in a cage, remember him when he was unjust on the throne,” Marian wrote on Twitter, using the website that became a valuable tool in rallying the masses during the 18-day uprising according to Reuters.
Activist and director Mohamed Diab wrote on Twitter that the trial was “likely to cause a big rift, just like after his second speech. Imagine Mubarak with white hair, weeping and collapsing in court.”
The trial will be the latest in a string of legal proceedings against members of the Mubarak era.
Several ministers have already been sentenced to jail in corruption cases, including Adly, sentenced to 12 years in jail for corruption.
Mubarak is the second Arab leader to be overthrown in the unrest that has swept North Africa and the Middle East since the beginning of this year.
Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled his country in January after a popular revolt, has already been twice convicted and sentenced in absentia for possession of arms, drugs and archaeological artifacts and for misappropriating public funds.
It is the first ever trial of an Arab leader overthrown by a popular rebellion.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International urged a “fair and transparent” trial.
“This trial presents a historic opportunity for Egypt to hold a former leader and his inner circle to account for crimes committed during their rule,” said Malcolm Smart, director for the Middle East and North Africa, according to AFP.
“But if the trial is going to be a meaningful break with Egypt’s record of impunity, it must be both fair and transparent -- justice demands no less.”