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Hosni Mubarak could walk free

Hosni Mubarak’s lawyer says the former military leader could be released as early as this week.

Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak sits inside a cage in a courtroom. Picture: AFP.

CAIRO - Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak could be freed from jail after a court reviews his case on Wednesday, potentially stirring further unrest in a country where army-backed authorities are hunting down his Muslim Brotherhood enemies.

The court will convene at the Cairo prison where Mubarak is being held, judicial sources said, and review a petition from his lawyer demanding that the leader overthrown during the 2011 uprisings be freed.

If the court upholds the petition, there would remain no legal grounds for Mubarak's continued detention, though he is being retried on charges of complicity in the killing of protesters in 2011.

At 85, Mubarak may have no political future, but his release - which his lawyer predicts will happen this week - could stir emotions and raise new questions on whether the popular uprising that ended his 30-year rule is leading back to a new form of military government.

Seven weeks ago, the armed forces that Mubarak once commanded deposed his freely elected successor, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi.

Egypt is enduring the bloodiest internal conflict in its modern history, with about 900 people, including 100 police and soldiers, killed after security forces broke up pro-Morsi protest camps in the capital on August 14. A spokesman for a pro-Brotherhood alliance put the death toll among its followers at about 1,400.

Signalling their determination to crush the group and silence protests against the ousting of Morsi, Egypt's army-backed authorities on Tuesday arrested Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood's leader.

His arrest is part of a wave of detentions among the upper echelons of the organisation. Egyptian state media reported on Wednesday that Murad Ali, a media advisor to the Brotherhood's political party, and Safwat Hegazy, an incendiary preacher, had both been arrested while trying to flee the country.

A Muslim Brotherhood statement condemned the arrest of Badie, 70, and other leaders.

"The putschists think that arresting the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and marring their image in the media will make Egyptians bow and give in to the coup," it said.

"The issue has become one of the Egyptian people and they will not bow. ... They have killed thousands, wounded thousands, arrested thousands but the (people) are continuing in their peaceful revolution and rejecting the coup and military rule."

DIPLOMATIC CONCERNS

The turmoil has alarmed the United States and the European Union, but Israel and some Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia have pressed the West not to punish Cairo's new rulers.

Badie was charged in July with incitement to murder in connection with protests before Morsi's ouster and is due to stand trial on August 25 along with his two deputies. On Tuesday, the public prosecutor ordered his detention for 30 days on the charges of incitement to killing during anti-Morsi protests in November and demonstrations in Cairo last month.

The Brotherhood emerged as the best-organised political force after Mubarak's fall. Now the state accuses it of al Qaeda-style militancy and subversion, charges it vehemently denies.

The whereabouts of many other senior Brotherhood politicians are unknown. Arrests have extended beyond Cairo, netting provincial leaders of the movement.

A law professor filed a lawsuit against Mohamed ElBaradei on Tuesday, accusing the former interim vice president of a "betrayal of trust" over his decision to quit the government.

Jeffrey Feltman, UN under-secretary for political affairs, arrived in Egypt on Tuesday for talks that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said would focus on initiatives to restore peace and forge reconciliation.

The United States, a close ally of Egypt since it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, adopted a harder line towards Egypt's military-backed government on Tuesday, stressing that its crackdown on protesters could influence US aid. But it but denied reports that it has already suspended assistance.

At issue is the future of about $1.23 million in US military assistance and $241 million in economic aid to Egypt.

Foreign ministers of the European Union, another donor, meet in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss how it might use its economic muscle to push for an end to the violence.

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