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Top witness undermines Mubarak case

A police commander who agreed to give evidence backing claims that Egypt's former government ordered protesters to be shot has gone back on his word.

Prosecutors at the trial of ex-president Hosni Mubarak had expected their first witness General Hussein Moussa to detail how he was told to open fire on crowds in Cairo.

But the general told the hearing police were ordered to use just tear gas and rubber bullets and resorted to live ammunition only to protect police stations.

It was a dramatic and confusing start to the prosecution's case and one of the lawyers representing victims' families accused the general of lying.

"It was clear that the defendants have put pressure on him and that he changed his testimony," Mohammed Damaty said. Egypt's state television said that Gen. Moussa's evidence contradicted his earlier affidavits to the prosecutor general.

Three other police officials are due to give evidence. But Gen. Moussa's evidence could be damaging to the prosecution's case.

Outside the Police Academy compound where the trial is being held, hundreds of relatives of protesters who were killed in the uprising clashed with police and tried to force their way in, frustrated at being prohibited from attending the trial.

Live TV broadcasts of the landmark trial have been halted by the judge, angering many Egyptians who wanted to witness the prosecution of the man who ruled their country for nearly 30 years and was widely resented for a regime plagued by corruption, police abuse and a ruling-party monopoly on power.

Inside the courtroom, pro- and anti-Mubarak lawyers broke into fist-fights after a loyalist in the audience raised a picture of the ousted president. One lawyer took off his shoes and beat another with them, and other scuffled and shouted insults, prompting the judge to adjourn briefly.

Mubarak is charged with corruption and with complicity in the killings of protesters. His sons, Gamal and Alaa, also face corruption charges.

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