Middle East

Mubarak trial: Ruler Tantawi testifies in secret

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's ruling military council, speaks with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (not pictured) in Cairo May 3, 2011
Image caption Field Marshal Tantawi's evidence is thought to be crucial to the trial

The head of Egypt's ruling military council has testified at the trial of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Field Marshall Tantawi gave evidence in a court session that lasted about an hour and a half, a lawyer said.

The questioning of the man who served as defence minister for almost 20 years took place behind closed doors due to national security concerns.

His testimony is likely to be key in determining Mr Mubarak's guilt or innocence, says the BBC's Bethany Bell.

She was reporting outside the court in Cairo, where small groups of demonstrators gathered - anti-Mubarak protesters calling on Field Marshall Tantawi to tell the truth, with others chanting in support of the former president.

Mr Mubarak, 83, denies charges of ordering the shooting of protesters during the dying days of his regime.

Lawyers representing some of the 850 people killed complained Field Marshal Tantawi gave evidence earlier than usual and left the courthouse without allowing them to cross-examine him, Reuters news agency reported.

"The measures were unusual... The session started very early," it quoted attorney Wael Zekri as saying. "By the time the lawyers arrived, the testimony was over," he added.

Tantawi was initially set to testify on 11 September, but failed to attend the session citing a busy schedule and instead offering to submit a written testimony - raising opposition suspicions that he was deliberately foot-dragging.

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