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Egypt may free ex-ruler Hosni Mubarak

CAIRO — A court in Egypt granted bond Monday to the country's former autocratic ruler, Hosni Mubarak, raising the prospect that he could be released from jail within days — potentially escalating the political crisis in the Arab world's most populous nation.

Mubarak, 85, is unlikely to return to politics if freed. His health has been poor, and he still faces a host of legal problems, including a new trial related to the deaths of protesters in the 2011 revolt that ended his three-decade rule as president.

But his release would heighten suspicions that his former military-backed regime had returned to power after the armed forces last month ousted the country's first democratically elected president, Islamist Mohammed Morsi.

The court's decision Monday, along with the killing a day earlier of 36 detainees apprehended during the recent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, are certain to inflame Morsi sympathizers. They voiced fury over the detainee deaths, accusing authorities of committing a massacre. The government said the detainees had died in an attempted prison break.

For government supporters, meanwhile, a bloody attack Monday on police recruits in the Sinai bolstered the argument that the authorities are fighting terrorism. Unidentified gunmen killed 25 recruits traveling on a bus in the area, where Islamist militants have stepped up attacks since Morsi's July 3 ouster.

Nearly 1,000 civilians and dozens of members of the security forces have died since Wednesday, when authorities raided two Islamist protest camps in Cairo in what Human Rights Watch on Monday called "the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history."

Neither side shows signs of backing down. Al Jazeera television showed pro-Morsi demonstrators, who are seeking his reinstatement, marching in several areas in defiance of a 7 p.m. national curfew.

The Egyptian government, meanwhile, has been considering banning the Brotherhood. The State Department on Monday cautioned against such a move, saying Egypt needs an inclusive political process to emerge from the crisis.

Early Tuesday, state media reported that the spiritual leader of the Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, was arrested in an apartment building in the Nasr City section of Cairo. Badie, who was thought to have been in hiding, is scheduled to face trial this month for his alleged role in the killing of protesters outside the group's headquarters in June.

Mubarak's legal victory on Monday came in a case alleging that he and others misused funds allocated for presidential palaces. He was granted bond pending trial, under laws limiting the length of pretrial detention, court officials said. He had been held since 2011.

Mubarak is still being detained on another corruption charge, but his attorney said that case would be resolved within 48 hours. "He should be freed by the end of the week," the attorney, Fareed el-Deeb, told the Reuters news agency.

Since his detention, Mubarak has spent long stretches of time in the hospital, but he was moved back to prison in April after his health improved.

Morsi and other Brotherhood activists suffered years of repression under Mubarak. On Monday, authorities announced that Morsi, who is being held in a secret location, is under investigation on charges that include taking part in the detention, torture and murder of citizens. The announcement gives authorities the legal basis to detain him for a longer period.

The attack Monday on police recruits in the Sinai was one of the deadliest in decades in the volatile territory that borders Israel.

The Egyptian Interior Ministry said the recruits were returning from leave to their jobs in the border town of Rafah when the gunmen opened fire. Gruesome photos of the victims posted on the Internet showed them lying in a row along the side of the road, dressed in casual clothes, most of them facing down. Some had their hands bound behind their backs.

The militants are relatively few in number, with little organization or command structure, according to local residents. But since the military removed Morsi, the fighters have carried out dozens of attacks on military and police checkpoints and bases in the Sinai Peninsula, raising fears of a budding insurgency.

Ancient artifacts looted from ransacked museum

As violent clashes roiled Egypt, looters made away with a prized 3,500-year-old limestone statue, ancient beaded jewelry and more than 1,000 other artifacts in the biggest theft to hit an Egyptian museum in living memory. The scale of the looting of the Malawi Museum in the southern Nile River city of Minya laid bare the security vacuum that has taken hold in cities outside Cairo, where police have all but disappeared from the streets. For days after vandals ransacked the building Wednesday, there were no police or soldiers in sight as groups of teenage boys burned mummies and broke limestone sculptures too heavy for the thieves to carry away. Among the stolen antiquities was a statue of the daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who ruled during the 18th dynasty. Other looted items included gold and bronze Greco-Roman coins, pottery and bronze-detailed sculptures of animals. The museum's ticket agent was killed during the storming of the building, according to the Antiquities Ministry.

Egypt may free ex-ruler Hosni Mubarak 08/20/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 12:09am]

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