CAIRO — A senior police officer said there were no orders to shoot protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square in startling testimony Monday at the trial of ousted President Hosni Mubarak on charges he was complicit in killing Egyptians involved in the uprising against his rule.
The testimony came from a police general who had been called to the stand by prosecutors who had expected him to reveal who gave orders for police to open fire on protesters. But Gen. Hussein Moussa said police were ordered to use only tear gas and rubber bullets and resorted to live ammunition only to protect police stations.
It was a dramatic and confusing start to the prosecution's case. Moussa was the first witness to be called in a trial that has been dominated by procedural issues since it began on Aug. 3.
The session was stormy. Outside the Police Academy compound where the trial is being held, hundreds of relatives of protesters who were killed in the uprising clashed with police and tried to force their way in, frustrated at being prohibited from attending the trial.
Live TV broadcasts of the landmark trial have been halted by a judges' order, angering many Egyptians who wanted to witness the prosecution of the man who ruled their country for nearly 30 years and was widely resented for a regime plagued by corruption, police abuse and a ruling-party monopoly on power.
Inside the courtroom, pro- and anti-Mubarak lawyers broke into fist-fights after a loyalist in the audience raised a picture of the ousted president. One lawyer took off his shoes and beat another lawyer with them, and other scuffled and shouted insults, prompting the judge to adjourn briefly, according to Mohammed Damaty, a lawyer representing the victims' families.
As he has in previous sessions, the 83-year-old Mubarak, who is in ill health, lay in a hospital bed in the defendants cage along with his co-defendants, including his two sons.
Mubarak is charged with corruption and with complicity in the killings of protesters. His sons, Gamal and Alaa, also face corruption charges, and his former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly and six top police officers are also charged in the protester killings. About 850 people were killed when police opened fire on protesters during the 18-day uprising that brought Mubarak's downfall on Feb. 11.
Prosecutors claim that Mubarak and his highest ranking security chief el-Adly were ultimately responsible for orders to use lethal force against the peaceful protesters. Before Monday's session, they had said Gen. Moussa — who headed the communications unit of the Central Security Forces, which were deployed to curb the protests — would name those who issued orders.
But on the stand, Moussa denied el-Adly gave any such orders, according to the lawyer Damaty and a human rights activist at the trial.
The judge, who in the Egyptian system questions witnesses, asked Moussa if he knew whether el-Adly issued orders allowing police to use live ammunition against protesters, Moussa replied, "No, I don't know," according to a tweet by rights activist Gamal Eid, who was inside the courtroom.
Moussa said it was Gen. Ahmed Ramzy, another of the defendants, who issued the order. "Anybody else?" the judge asked. "No," Moussa answered, according to Eid.
Moussa said live ammunition was used only against protesters who planned to attack the Cairo security headquarters, police stations and prisons. In Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the uprising where witnesses and prosecutors say police snipers shot at protesters, he said security forces used only water cannons and rubber bullets.
Damaty confirmed Eid's account of the testimony to The Associated Press, and he accused Moussa of "twisting the truth."
"It was clear that the defendants have put pressure on him and that he changed his testimony," he said.
Egypt's state television said that Moussa's testimony contradicted his earlier affadavits to the prosecutor general.
Three other police officials were to testify Monday. But Moussa's testimony could be damaging to the prosecution's case. Without a clear line of orders from el-Adly, the former interior minister and Mubarak's defense could argue that other top police officers acted independently in killing protesters.
Mubarak and the others could face the death penalty if convicted in the protester killings.
Outside the academy compound on the outskirts of Cairo, hundreds of victims' families and protesters pushed and shoved in an attempt to break through the main gates and enter the court building. Black-clad anti-riot police swung batons and briefly clashed with the protesters, who hurled stones at the security forces.
TV footage also showed metal barricades being thrown, while hundreds of anti-riot police chased young men in the streets.
Ramadan Ahmed Abdou, the father of a slain protester, said he applied for permission to attend the session and had been told he could pick up the permit Monday morning before the trial. But when he arrived, he was told there was no permit for him.
"People are very frustrated," he said. "We said OK when the judge decided to ban the broadcast of the trial, but we want to see it ourselves," he said.
Crowds held posters of slain protesters and shouted, "To die like them or to get their rights." One held a hangman's noose and demanded Mubarak's execution. Some set fire to pictures of Mubarak, while chanting, "The people want to execute the butcher."
Nearby, about 50 Mubarak supporters in a counterdemonstration cried out, "Why humiliate the president who protected us?" Clashes also erupted between Mubarak's loyalists and victims' families, leaving at least 12 people injured, according to Egypt's state-news-agency. More than 22 people arrested during the clashes, according to a security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the press.
It was the third time that family members and others have tried but been unable to get into the courtroom since the trial began on Aug. 3. Showing the hearings live on state television had been a nod to widespread public demand for a chance to see the trial. It was also a gesture to activists who complained that the military rulers now in charge of the country were dragging their feet bringing Mubarak and stalwarts of his regime to justice.
But in an Aug. 15 session, the chief judge, Ahmed Rifaat, stopped the live broadcasts to "protect the public interest." The move appeared to be aimed at reducing what had been a rather circus-like atmosphere in the courtroom, but many saw it as aimed at preventing humiliation of the president or tamping down public interest.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.