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Mubarak on the brink of being free

If Mubarak is released, he would then be placed under house arrest and not allowed to leave Egypt.

Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak sits inside a cage in a courtroom during his verdict hearing in Cairo. Picture: AFP.

CAIRO - Deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak could leave prison on Thursday after a court ruling that further divided a country in turmoil since the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Morsi seven weeks ago.

Convening at the Cairo jail where Mubarak is held, the court ordered the release of the military man who ruled Egypt for 30 years with an iron fist until he was overthrown during the uprisings that swept the Arab world in early 2011.

The prime minister's office said he would then be placed under house arrest, which could be an attempt to placate the many who will object to the release of the man they held mass protests to eject in 2011.

Citing a security source, the state news agency said Mubarak would "likely" be transported to one of the state's vital installations or one of two military hospitals where he will be guarded under heavy security.

Mubarak, 85, was sentenced to life in prison last year for failing to prevent the killing of demonstrators. But a court accepted his appeal earlier this year and ordered a retrial.

The ailing former air force pilot probably has no political future, but the court ruling made some Egyptians uncomfortable.

"His regime was foul. He damaged the country a lot, unemployment high, no services, no health, no education. This is not a good day for the country," said Hassan Mohamed, 66, an engineer.

Political upheaval triggered by the army overthrow of Morsi has kept many Egyptians anxious for months.

The military announced a road map designed to bring democracy back to Egypt. But that has not created a sense of stability in the Arab world's biggest nation.

At least 900 people, including 100 soldiers and police, have been killed in a crackdown on Morsi supporters in the past week, making it the country's bloodiest internal episode in decades.

The clampdown, which has included the arrests of top leaders of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, appears to have weakened the Arab world's oldest and arguably most influential Islamist group.

It has been struggling to get people onto the streets to protest what it calls a military coup since security crushed pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo.

Brotherhood supporters called on Egyptians to hold "Friday of Martyrs" marches against the military takeover.

A group calling itself The National Coalition to Support Legitimacy, which has been demanding Morsi's reinstatement, said in a statement, "We will remain steadfast on the road to defeating the military coup."

Mubarak's release from jail would reinforce the Brotherhood's view that the armed forces, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is trying to rehabilitate the old government.

MIX REACTIONS

Mubarak is still being retried on charges of complicity in the killing of protesters during the revolt against him, but he has already served the maximum pre-trial detention in that case.

The court ruling removed the last legal ground for his imprisonment in connection with a corruption case, following a similar decision in another corruption case on Monday. Mubarak will not be permitted to leave Egypt and his assets remain frozen.

Some Egyptians were happy to hear Mubarak could soon leave Cairo's Tora prison, where many of his enemies were jailed during his ruthless crackdowns on Islamists.

Egypt has witnessed deterioration in law and order since Mubarak was toppled. Political violence that erupted after Morsi's ouster has also made Egyptians uneasy.

The United States and the European Union are both reviewing aid to Cairo in light of the bloodshed, but Saudi Arabia, a foe of the Brotherhood, has promised to make up any shortfall.

Egypt has said repeatedly it does not want foreign powers to interfere in the standoff with the Brotherhood.

"Egypt can never accept interference in its sovereignty or the independence of its decisions or interference in its internal affairs," said Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy in a statement after the EU talks.

"The only standard that rules Egypt's decisions is the supreme interest of the country and its national security."

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