CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's ousted President Hosni Mubarak will face a new trial next month on charges related to the killings of hundreds of protesters during the revolution that forced him from power, a court ruled Sunday.
Mubarak and his former interior minister were each sentenced in June to life in prison for failing to prevent the killing of demonstrators during the 18-day uprising in 2011 that ended his 29-year rule. In January, an appeals court overturned the sentences and ordered a retrial, raising public anger over what was seen as a shoddy prosecution in the first case.
Critics wanted Mubarak convicted and sentenced to death for directly ordering the brutal crackdown, which killed nearly 900 people.
The retrial, beginning April 13, is likely to intensify an already tense political atmosphere in Egypt, still reeling from a turbulent transition. It is due to start just over a week before the beginning of Egypt's parliamentary elections, which have deeply polarized the country.
Two years on, Cairo's Tahrir Square — the epicenter of protests during the uprising against Mubarak — remains a volatile hub for Egyptians to vent their anger. Police failed to clear protesters from the square on Sunday, and instead the crowds who have had a sit-in there for the past three months burned two police vehicles near the famed Egyptian Museum there.
Mubarak's successor Mohammed Morsi and his government argue that parliamentary elections will help put the country on the right track, enabling him and the legislature to tackle a deteriorating economy.
Morsi met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Cairo for more than two hours on Sunday, a day after the top American diplomat met six opposition figures out of 11 who were invited. Those who did not attend said they declined to meet Kerry because of Washington's insistence that all Egyptians take part in next month's elections.
The opposition has called for an election boycott and has threatened to escalate an anti-government street campaign. The mostly liberal and secular opposition accuses the Islamist president of failing to seek consensus over critical issues, such as the drafting of the constitution and the elections law.
Opponents accuse him of working to empower his Muslim Brotherhood and ensuring its lock on power.
Meanwhile, popular discontent over the government's performance is already spilling into violent confrontations on the streets and a myriad of work stoppages.
On Sunday, clashes erupted between security forces and protesters in the port city of Port Said, the scene of a civil strike now in its second week. City residents started their strike in anger to demand retribution for what they claim was excessive police force that led to the deaths of more than 40 civilians in late January.
The killings took place during protests that swept the city after a Cairo court passed death sentences against 21 people, mostly from Port Said, for their part in Egypt's worst soccer disaster on Feb. 1, 2012.
The street battles broke out Sunday when word emerged that those sentenced were transferred to prisons outside the city. A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the case, said the transfer was necessary to ensure calm before a March 9 court hearing that is expected to confirm the death sentences and issue new verdicts for police officers also charged in connection with the soccer violence.
Protesters set a police vehicle on fire, and pelted the main police station with rocks. Police forces, which had all but vanished from the city after last month's violence, fought off the protesters lobbing tear gas and rocks in a standoff that continued for hours.
In Cairo, die-hard soccer fans of Al-Ahly club, known as the Ultras, also were gearing up for the March 9 verdict by staging protests around town that blocked traffic going to the airport, and closed off an area around the central bank.
Most of those killed in the Port Said stadium were Al-Ahly Ultras, and the group is pressing for retribution from Port Said soccer fans as well as security officials.
Also on Sunday, in the ancient southern city of Luxor, scores of bazaar owners blocked the roads leading to famed ancient sites, such as the Valley of the Kings, barring tourist buses from getting through in an unprecedented move.
The protesters demanded that the government exempt them from paying rent because of the dismal tourism revenues.
Mubarak, 84, has been in detention since April 2011 and is currently being held in a military hospital.
The issue of those killed during the mass protests that led to Mubarak's ouster is a sensitive one in Egypt, with the families of the victims demanding retribution and compensation. Morsi promised during his election campaign that he would put former regime officials back on trial if new evidence was discovered.
The proceedings could help resolve unanswered questions over who ordered the crackdown and who executed it. Most security officials were acquitted in separate trials related to the deaths of protesters.
In January, the appeals court ruled that during Mubarak's first trial, the prosecution's case lacked concrete evidence and failed to prove the protesters were killed by the police, indirectly giving credence to the testimony of top Mubarak-era officials that "foreigners" and others were behind the killings between Jan. 25 and Feb. 1, 2011. Critics scoffed at those charges, blaming Mubarak's police and sympathizers.
Authors of a recently concluded confidential report by a fact-finding mission appointed by Morsi told reporters that they have established the use of deadly firearms by the police against protesters.
On Sunday, Judge Samir Aboul-Maati said the retrial before a criminal court will include six other senior security officials who were acquitted in the first trial. Mubarak's two sons and a business associate also will be retried on corruption charges. The sons, onetime heir apparent Gamal and wealthy businessman Alaa, are in jail while on trial for insider trading and using their influence to buy state land at a fraction of its market value.
The business associate, Hussein Salem, was tried in absentia. He is currently in Spain.