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Egypt army reconsiders cases of jailed protesters

By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 14 2011 10:25 a.m. MDT

An Egyptian policeman stands guard Thursday April 14, 2011, in front of Sharm El Sheikh hospital where former President Hosni Mubarak, 82, was hospitalized with heart problems in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. A day after Egypt's prosecutor general announced the 15-day detention of the country's former president pending inquiries into accusations of corruption, abuse of authority and the killings of protesters, in an unprecedented investigation of a former ruler in the Arab world.

Amr Nabil, Associated Press

CAIRO — Egypt's military rulers promised Thursday to review the cases of hundreds of protesters jailed in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak's ouster, a gesture aimed at easing spiraling tension between the pro-reform movement and the generals overseeing the country's transition.

The announcement followed Wednesday's stunning detention of the ex-president and his two powerful sons in an investigation into corruption, abuse of power and the killing of protesters, acting on the central demand of the protest camp since Mubarak was toppled on Feb. 11.

The military council that took control of the country from Mubarak after 18 days of massive protests is using greater and more frequent concessions to try to reverse the discord and mistrust between it and the groups pushing for a genuine transition to democracy.

The Armed Forces' Supreme Council said in a statement posted on its Facebook page that "cases of the young people" recently put on trial "will be reconsidered." It also fired several provincial governors appointed by the former president.

Activists accuse the military of operating in ways reminiscent of Mubarak's autocratic regime, locking up hundreds of protesters in military prisons, where some have reportedly been tortured, after swift trials before military courts.

A military tribunal convicted a blogger of insulting the army and spreading false information this week and sentenced him to three years in prison, further antagonizing the protest movement.

Many Egyptians say the generals are dictating the course of Egypt's transition and are not doing enough to ensure remnants of Mubarak's regime don't retain power and thwart hopes for real democracy.

The tension peaked Saturday when troops stormed Cairo's Tahrir Square to clear protesters who now gather there every Friday to keep the pressure on the military to pursue changes before handing the nation back to civilian rule. At least one protester was killed and dozens were arrested in the pre-dawn operation.

The military has not provided a number for those detained since Mubarak's ouster. But Egypt's Front for the Defense of Protesters, an umbrella of civil rights groups helping the detainees, says it estimates 10,000 people have been imprisoned since Feb. 11 after going before military tribunals.

Several hundred are still in detention.

Nadim Mansour, an activist with the organization says the estimate was derived from reports from families and lawyers who attend trials at military courts. He said the military system now allows for appeals, which was not the case before.

The dismissal of 10 provincial governors appointed by Mubarak was another key demand of the youth movement that led the uprising. That was announced Thursday by state television.

By far the biggest step was Wednesday's detention of Mubarak and his sons. They were ordered held for 15 days pending the investigation. Legal experts say that if convicted for inciting and ordering the killing of protesters, Mubarak could face the death penalty.

Mubarak was placed in custody at a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he was taken Tuesday for heart problems.

There were reports that he could be transferred to a Cairo hospital, as well as rumors his health condition was deteriorating. Egypt's state TV, however, said Thursday that Mubarak's health condition was "stable" and that he will remain in Sharm el-Sheikh, where he and his family have been kept under house arrest at a family compound since he left power.

The detention of the 82-year-old Mubarak — dubbed Egypt's pharaoh for ruling unchallenged for 29 years — set a new landmark in the already unprecedented wave of upheavals shaking the Middle East.

It was the first time an authoritarian leader in the Arab world has been brought to justice by his own people, given that Iraq's Saddam Hussein was toppled and later captured by American troops, who handed him over for trial and execution by Iraq's new Shiite leaders.

Mubarak's sons, Gamal, once seen as his successor, and Alaa, a wealthy businessman, were jailed in Cairo's Tora prison, where a string of former top regime figures — including Mubarak's prime minister, ruling party chief and chief of staff — are already languishing, facing similar corruption investigations.

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