Cairo: Egypt`s prosecutor general on Sunday formally summoned Hosni Mubarak to appear at his trial, giving the clearest indication that the ousted president will be brought to the Cairo courtroom this week despite questions about his health.
If he does appear at Wednesday`s opening session in a makeshift courtroom at the national police academy, Mubarak will face an audience of 600 people, including relatives of some of the 850 protesters killed in the crackdown on the 18-day uprising that forced him from power in February.
Activists believe Mubarak`s health is being used as a ruse to postpone the proceedings and they accuse Egypt`s ruling military council, whose head was Mubarak`s longtime defence minister, of dragging its feet on the prosecution of the ex-president and other key members of his regime.
Prosecutor General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud asked the security chief to arrange for Mubarak`s appearance in court to face charges he ordered the killing of protesters.
Interior Minister Mansour el-Issawi "received a request from the prosecutor general asking for former President Hosni Mubarak to appear in court on August 03”, said a statement carried by the official news agency on Sunday.
Barring a sudden health failure, Mubarak must now appear in court or risk the maximum penalty of execution if he is tried in absentia and found guilty, said Nasser Amin, a human rights lawyer who plans to attend the trial but is not participating in the proceedings.
After his February 11 overthrow, the 83-year-old Mubarak left Cairo for the Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. He was later admitted to a hospital there for treatment for heart problems. He has remained at the hospital in police custody and has not appeared in public since.
On Sunday, the head of the Sharm el-Sheikh hospital, Mohammed Fathallah, said Mubarak had a routine checkup and his condition was relatively stable. In recent days, doctors treating Mubarak had said he was weak and losing weight because he was refusing to eat or eating little. They had also said he was suffering from depression.
The trial will be held in a Cairo suburb and is expected to draw a large crowd.
A public trial for Mubarak and his top aides is a main demand of protesters who toppled his regime and continue to hold weekly demonstrations in Cairo.
The proceedings will be broadcast live on state television.
Also standing trial with Mubarak will be his security chief, Habib el-Adly, and six top police officers. All face possible death sentences if found guilty on charges they ordered the use of lethal force against protesters.
Mubarak`s sons, Gamal and Alaa, will also be tried along with their father and a close associate on charges of corruption. The associate, businessman Hussein Salem, is a fugitive and will be tried in absentia.
Judge Ahmed Rifaat told a news conference that he would allow 600 people to attend the trial, including defence lawyers, relatives, victims` families and journalists.
"It is the right of the Egyptian people to be assured that what takes place in the courtroom conforms to the law," said the silver-haired Rifaat.
He pledged a speedy trial.
Also on Sunday, following two days of violence in the northern Sinai Peninsula, officials said they had detained members of a radical Islamist group seeking to establish a religious state in the area and emulating al Qaeda.
The officials said members of the group received training in the neighbouring Gaza Strip.
Clashes between security forces and Islamic militants Friday in the northern Sinai provincial capital, el-Arish, left six people dead, including a military officer and a policeman. The clashes were followed by an attack on an empty terminal along Egypt`s natural gas pipeline to Israel, the third recent attack on the pipeline.
The heavily-armed militants paraded around town in a show of force on Friday, firing in the air, and raising black flags with religious writings.