Cairo: An Egyptian judge on Wednesday set June 02 as the date for the verdict and sentencing in the trial of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, which could put the man who spent nearly 30 years as one of the Arab world`s key strongmen on death row.
Mubarak is accused of complicity in the killing of protesters during the 18-day popular uprising that pushed him from power in February of last year. More than 800 people were killed during the uprising, many of them demonstrators shot dead by security forces.
A guilty verdict would make Mubarak the first leader ousted during the Arab Spring uprisings to face legal punishment by his own people.
A ruling of not guilty — a distinct possibility — could set off new a new round of unrest.
Egyptians have closely followed the seven-month-long case, and many accuse the council of ruling Army generals who took power when Mubarak stepped down of dragging out the proceedings.
Critics of the military`s handling of the transition to democracy say the trial`s pace reflects a wider lack of justice for those killed in the uprising. Egyptian courts have so far not punished any police officers for the protester deaths.
Others have criticised the prosecution, saying it has failed to present strong enough evidence to support a murder charge.
Judge Ahmed Rifat announced on Wednesday the date of the final hearing, in which Mubarak will receive both his verdict and sentence, saying it would be open to media coverage. Most media have been barred from the majority of the hearings since the trial`s start.
The prosecution is calling for the death penalty for Mubarak and five others, which would be by hanging.
Mubarak has rarely spoken during the trial, and on Wednesday turned down his last chance to address the court during the defence`s final arguments.
"I have no comment," Mubarak told the judge on Wednesday, adding that what his lawyer said was enough.
Later, during the session that lasted more than nine hours, Mubarak fell asleep.
The defence argued that Mubarak is still president, and thus can only be tried for treason or in a special court. It has also blamed the uprising on foreign agents who allegedly sneaked into the country to destabilise it.
Mubarak`s Interior Minister during the uprising reiterated that argument on Wednesday in comments to the court that lasted an hour and a half.
"I reaffirm before you that there were foreign saboteurs who desecrated Egypt`s pure land," said Habib el-Adly. He ran Mubarak`s security services and faces the same charge.
He said the plotters "were supported by internal criminal elements with the aim of undermining Egypt`s international and regional standing and attempting to destabilise its political, security and economic stability”. The plot involved "killing peaceful protesters, storming prisons to free terrorist and criminal elements, vandalising public and private properties and burning policemen inside their vehicles”.
Dozens of policemen men were also killed during the uprising, many during attacks on police stations and prisons.
El-Adly offered his condolences to the families of those killed, prompting lawyers in the room to shout, "Butcher! Execution!"
Six other ranking security officers are being tried in the same case. Two of them, plus Mubarak and el-Adly, could be hanged. Mubarak, his sons Gamal and Alaa and a close associate are being tried in a separate case on corruption charges.
Also on Wednesday, Amnesty International said Egyptian security forces had used excessive force against demonstrators earlier this month, killing 16 and injuring many more.
Protesters took to the streets in Cairo and the canal town of Suez following the killing of 74 people at a soccer match. They blamed police for not stopping the attackers.
Over the next five days, Amnesty said, police used "excessive force, including firearms, to disperse angry protests”.
While most demonstrators protested peacefully, some threw rocks and launched fireworks at police.
The London-based group said the protesters` deaths show that Egypt`s new government has yet to reform its police force, despite many promises to do so since Mubarak`s fall.
"The recent use of excessive force by the security forces show a complete disrespect for human life," Amnesty`s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said in a statement.