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Morsi, other defendants disrupt, reject trial

Lawyers, aides denied access to deposed leader

A video image showed Egypt’s ousted president, Mohammed Morsi, in the court’s cagelike docket.

Egyptian Interior Ministry/AP

A video image showed Egypt’s ousted president, Mohammed Morsi, in the court’s cagelike docket.

CAIRO — The trial of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi began on a defiant note inside a sealed courtroom on Monday, with Morsi refusing to don the white jumpsuit required of defendants here and telling a judge: ‘‘I am Egypt’s legitimate president. . . . I refuse to be tried by this court.’’

Morsi and his codefendants, who like him are loyal to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, then began chanting to disrupt the proceedings. The presiding judge, Ahmed Sabry Youssef, responded by adjourning the trial for two months. It is scheduled to resume on Jan. 8.

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Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, has been charged with murder and incitement to violence. He has been held virtually incommunicado since he was deposed in a July 3 military coup, and he was brought to the trial in a military helicopter.

After the trial was postponed, state television reported that Morsi was being transferred to a prison in the coastal city of Alexandria. It was not clear why.

Cameras and recording devices were prohibited inside the courtroom. Silent video footage released later showed Morsi wearing a suit with no tie as he entered the cagelike docket to the applause of the other defendants. His codefendants, dressed in white, stood with their backs to the judges, their hands held high in a four-fingered salute that has become a symbol of solidarity for those opposed to the military coup.

The salute recalls a raid on the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp in August in which hundreds were killed; the word ‘‘Rabaa’’ means four in Arabic, and so activists use the four-fingered salute to recall the massacre. The symbol has become ubiquitous on signs and pins at protests and as an avatar on social media.

In the footage, lawyers and Egyptian journalists appeared to be shouting from the audience. Witnesses said two journalists called loudly for Morsi’s execution, reflecting the strong anti-Muslim Brotherhood stance adopted by both state-run and private media in Egypt since the coup.

Morsi was originally supposed to be tried at Cairo’s notorious Tora Prison. But officials said Sunday that the proceedings were being moved to the police academy, a compound ringed by high walls and concertina wire.

Morsi’s supporters said the shift, away from a cluster of neighborhoods where Morsi still commands wide popularity, made it more difficult for protesters to demonstrate in force.

Because Morsi ‘‘does not accept the terms of the trial,’’ he has refused to accept legal representation, said Nasser Soliman, one of a group of several dozen defense attorneys who are loyal to the former president.

Still, dozens of lawyers came to the police academy and demanded access to Morsi and his codefendants, and the evidence against them. The lawyers said they applied for permits to attend the trial, but mostly had been denied.

‘‘There is not a single attorney for Mohammed Morsi,’’ one lawyer yelled at police officers through the barbed-wire barrier, his face red and distorted in fury. ‘‘Go check with your commanders. We are the defense committee.’’

‘‘That’s not my problem,’’ an officer answered him. ‘‘I need written authorization.’’

Dozens of police in black riot gear and bulletproof vests stood behind a wall of concertina wire, bracing for a confrontation. Some of the police shouldered assault rifles and wore black ski masks to conceal their identities.

Several dozen Morsi supporters chanted antimilitary slogans before a vast lineup of television cameras and jostling reporters.

‘‘We asked for this to be broadcast live,’’ said Hassan Saleh, one of the lawyers. ‘‘But from my experience, those who commit illegitimate actions do not want anyone to know about them.’’

The Muslim Brotherhood-led Anti-Coup Alliance had called for mass protests Monday to mark the opening of the trial, and by midday clashes had broken out in downtown Cairo between protesters and Egyptian security forces firing tear gas. The military cordoned off Cairo’s Tahrir Square with troops and armored vehicles to prevent protesters from using the space.

But thousands of anticoup protesters gathered outside Cairo’s constitutional court, scrawling antimilitary slogans across its walls. Clashes erupted between protesters and police firing tear gas in Alexandria and in downtown Cairo.

Participants said the turnout nationwide was small, reflecting the mounting challenges facing the anticoup movement, which has been hobbled by large-scale arrests, close monitoring, and a campaign of intimidation by security forces.

Since the coup, Egypt’s government has killed more than a thousand Morsi supporters and imprisoned thousands more, including some of the Muslim Brotherhood’s longtime lawyers.

The charges against Morsi relate to several days of clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and their opponents during protests against a new constitution, which unfolded outside the presidential palace in December 2012.

Hosni Mubarak, the longtime autocrat whose 2011 ouster set the stage for Morsi’s ascension, is in the middle of a lengthy retrial, after an initial guilty verdict on charges of corruption and killing protesters was overturned for lack of evidence.

It is the first time in Egyptian history that two former presidents are on trial concurrently. Mubarak is under house arrest at a military hospital.

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