Civil courts must try Egypt clash suspects: ElBaradei

CAIRO Sun Oct 16, 2011 2:16pm EDT

Prominent Egyptian reform campaigner Mohamed ElBaradei talks to journalists before leaving Vienna to Cairo at the Vienna airport, January 27, 2011. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Prominent Egyptian reform campaigner Mohamed ElBaradei talks to journalists before leaving Vienna to Cairo at the Vienna airport, January 27, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Heinz-Peter Bader

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptians detained in connection with clashes between Christian protesters and military police that left 25 people dead should be tried in civilian not military courts, presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei said on Sunday.

The former U.N. diplomat's comments reflect public frustration at the army's handling of clashes on October 9, when protesters said they were attacked by unidentified "thugs" and then said military police used excessive force against them.

The authorities have detained 28 people on suspicion of attacking soldiers during the protest. Trials will be held before a military court. Rights groups have criticized the use of such courts by Egypt's ruling army council.

"The army was part of this operation," ElBaradei told a news conference, saying those referred for military investigation should be sent to the "civilian judiciary because, in my view, this will give the investigation and proceedings more credibility".

"It is not possible for the army to be an opponent and arbitrator at the same time," he said.

He also called for an independent committee to examine events in the violence which erupted outside the state television building in Cairo. Activists have accused state television of bias in its coverage.

ElBaradei echoed those concerns over coverage, saying that reform of the state media had been one of the main demands of Egyptians who took to the streets to oust Hosni Mubarak.

"Part of the main goals of the revolution was to purge the (state) media apparatus, beginning with Egyptian television," he said.

Egyptian generals have defended their actions during the protest, denying charges that troops used live ammunition or that army vehicles crushed demonstrators under their wheels.

Egyptian rights groups also criticized the army's defense of their actions. It said the army blamed the clashes on groups of Muslims and Christians and "foreign elements" but "ignored the involvement of officers and soldiers of the armed forces".

The statement, issued on behalf of the groups by the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights, also criticized the army's response to state media coverage.

"Instead of opening an investigation about official media coverage of the events, it praised their objectivity," it said.

Armored personnel carriers drove at the crowd to disperse it. Activists said some of the corpses were crushed. The army said the vehicles swerved to avoid protesters.

ElBaradei said he had been in contact indirectly with the military to express his concerns about the transitional period and issues that needed to be addressed during the period.

"I have been in contact, not directly but indirectly, with the military council ... offering my views, my advice," he said.

"My message is that we need to make sure that we restore security, we need to make sure that the economy is up and running and we need to make sure that we have a transitional period ... that is based on a proper democratic constitution," he said.

Christians who took to the streets on October 9 accused Muslims of partially demolishing a church in Aswan province at the end of September. Muslims in the village say the building did not have a license, but deny attacking it.

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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