The prosecution in the Hosni Mubarak trial said on Wednesday it has concluded that Egypt's ousted president, his security chief and six top police officers were the "actual instigators" of the killing of more than 800 protesters during last year's popular uprising that brought down his regime.
Mubarak and his seven co-defendants are facing charges of complicity in the killings and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Wednesday's hearing coincided with the second day of voting in the third and final round of parliamentary elections that began on Nov. 28. Even before the final round, Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest political group, were assured of a majority in the new legislature. They are likely to bolster their gains in the final round, since many of the nine provinces voting have been traditional Islamist strongholds.
The elections, the fairest and freest in decades, have attracted a heavy turnout. Final results were due to be announced Jan. 13.
The military officers who have taken over from Mubarak when he stepped down on Feb. 11 say presidential elections will be held before the end of June, but they are yet to announce an exact date for the vote and for formally handing over power to a civilian administration.
Activists have been pointing to what they see as mounting signs of a confluence of interests between the Brotherhood and the ruling generals. They fear their understanding could lead to shelving reforms for greater democracy they hoped for after Mubarak's fall.
Activists accuse the Brotherhood of opportunism and a determination to seize power. The group initially stayed out of the anti-Mubarak uprising, though its disciplined followers later lent considerable street muscle to protesters' street battles against security forces and Mubarak loyalists. It has since largely stayed out of antimilitary demonstrations, arguing that it was relying on the democratic process, rather than protests.
The Mubarak trial brings out conflicting visions. Reformers and the victims' families clamor for a full measure of justice, while many others want the turbulence to end so that Egypt's battered economy can move toward stability.
On Wednesday, chief prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman said the defendants clearly authorized the use of live ammunition and a shoot-to-kill policy against peaceful protesters. He also complained that the prosecution had to launch its own probe after security authorities ignored the prosecution's requests for help in the inquiry. Prosecutors interviewed hundreds of witnesses, physicians and police officers to build its case.
Suleiman said the decision to use live ammunition was taken on Jan. 27 last year, just before the most violent day of the 18-day uprising that forced Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11.
Dubbed the "Friday of Rage," Jan. 28 also saw the deployment of army troops in Cairo and across much of the nation, as well as the yet to be explained disappearance of security forces. The objective, he said, was to kill enough protesters to force the rest to disperse.
Another prosecutor, Mustafa Khater, told the court that special police forces armed with automatic rifles targeted the heads, chests and eyes of protesters.
The prosecution also showed video of the violence taken by TV stations. They showed police officers loading up their weapons with live ammunition and police and fire engine trucks chasing protesters and running them over. One video showed a police officer perched on top of a police car and killing a protester with a gunshot to the head.
"The defendants before you in the cage are the actual instigators and are the ones who gave police officers the order to shoot," said Suleiman. He also said that the prosecution has evidence that the regime used "thugs" against the protesters.
"The protesters were peaceful, and it was the police that started firing on them," he said. Suleiman said the Interior Minister and the country's intelligence agency ignored or provided little data in response to the prosecution's requests for information on the circumstances surrounding the killings. He said widespread disarray in the state at the time of the probe — around mid-February — or the wish to protect their own may have been behind the lack of cooperation.
Khater told the court that Interior Ministry officials used thugs and hardened criminals to provoke the protesters into violence. The thugs, he said, pelted protesters with rocks, prompting them to act in self defense and appear not to be peaceful.
The hearings will resume on Thursday for the third and final day of the prosecution's opening statement.