General given easy ride in Mubarak trial: lawyers

CAIRO Sun Sep 25, 2011 12:51pm EDT

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's ruling military council, meets with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Cairo May 3, 2011. REUTERS/Pool/Xinhua/Cai Yang

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's ruling military council, meets with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Cairo May 3, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Pool/Xinhua/Cai Yang

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Lawyers representing the families of those killed in the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak said on Sunday that Egypt's top general had been given an easy ride in questioning behind closed doors at the trial of the deposed president.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who now leads the military council ruling Egypt, testified on Saturday. The judge ordered a news blackout on his testimony citing national security, angering protesters who wanted a transparent trial.

Lawyers acting for victims' families said they were barred from revealing Tantawi's remarks but said about Saturday's session that the court questioning was too general. Some have requested that the judges' panel be changed.

Mubarak is accused of conspiring to kill protesters. Tantawi was Mubarak's defense minister for two decades.

The proceedings may fuel growing frustration about the army's role in managing the political transition. The military was welcomed on to the streets in February but it has yet to set a clear timetable to hand over power and has revived the same emergency law used by Mubarak.

"It is not legal to talk to the press on all details, but all I can say is in general Tantawi's testimony came in favor of the former regime and Mubarak," Amir Salem, one of the lawyers acting for the victims' families, told Reuters.

"We felt (Tantawi) was treated in a special way and the court was not precise in its questions to him. His session started earlier than the usual time which prevented some lawyers from attending as they arrived late," he said.

A Cairo court will consider the request to change the tribunal panel on Tuesday. Mubarak's trial will now be on hold until October 30, a delay that will add to public frustrations about the pace of proceedings.

"The whole testimony was very general. The questions were very general and the answers too were very general and did not lead to anything," said Rawdah Ahmed, who is also representing some of the families of the 850 people killed in the uprising.

She also told Reuters the court did not give an opportunity for questions that would "get the needed answers," echoing other lawyers who said they could not cross-examine Tantawi.

Newspapers said Tantawi's testimony lasted about an hour, or less, shorter than the time given to some other witnesses. State-owned Al Ahram newspaper said Tantawi was offered a seat when he entered but chose to stand throughout his testimony.

The paper said the field marshal answered 26 questions. It said the court rejected two questions from the prosecution.

The April 6 movement, which helped lead the uprising against Mubarak, demanded that Tantawi give a clear account of who gave orders to shoot at protesters during the uprising.

"The trials are not serious and it is apparent from the beginning that they are protecting the defendants. Tantawi's testimony means that there are considerations stronger than the revolution," Ingy Hamdy, a spokeswoman for the group, said.

More than a dozen lawyers held a news conference on Sunday to publicise complaints about the conduct of the trial.

Dozens of lawyers are involved in the case acting for the defense or plaintiffs. The crowded court room has turned rowdy on occasion. Mubarak, his two sons, the former interior minister and other senior officers are in a defendants' cage.

Lawyer Abdel Aziz Amer told the news conference that one of the guards in court grappled with a lawyer who tried to approach the stand to question Tantawi. "The court refused to acknowledge the incident," he said.

(Additional reporting by Tamim Elyan; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Robert Woodward)

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