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Mursi absence halts trial; Egypt officials cite weather

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[January 08, 2014]  By Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO (Reuters)  The trial of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi on charges of inciting murder was postponed until February 1 on Wednesday after officials said bad weather had stopped him from being flown to court.

Another Islamist politician, Essam el-Erian, on trial in the same case cast doubt on the explanation, telling reporters Mursi had refused to attend "because this court is unconstitutional". He did not say how he knew this was the case.

Though the weather was fine in the capital Cairo, a commercial flight from Dubai to Alexandria on the north coast where Mursi is being held was redirected to Cyprus because of fog, the director of Alexandria's civilian airport said.

Mursi had been due in court for the second session of his trial in the case relating to violence outside the presidential palace in December, 2012, when he was still president. He is charged with inciting the killing of protesters and could face the death penalty.

The army deposed Mursi, who won Egypt's first freely contested presidential election, on July 3 after mass protests against his rule.

In his first appearance in court on November 4, he declared he was still president, shouting: "Down with military rule".

State media earlier reported that Mursi, who is being held separately from other Brotherhood leaders at a jail near Alexandria, had arrived at the Cairo police academy where the court was due to convene.

But the state news agency, citing a senior security official, later reported that bad weather meant Mursi would most probably not be taken to court, where riot police in body armor were deployed in nearby streets.

Five Mursi supporters were arrested outside the police academy, state TV reported. Police also closed off central Cairo's Tahrir Square.

The case relates to violence outside the presidential palace during protests ignited by a decree that expanded Mursi's powers. Around a dozen people were killed in the violence. Fourteen other Islamists are standing trial with Mursi.

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The army-backed authorities brought two new cases against Mursi last month, accusing him of conspiring against Egypt with the Palestinian group Hamas, Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Shi'ite Islamist government of Iran, and separately charging him over a mass jail break during the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

Already mounting a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the authorities stepped up pressure on the group last month, officially declaring it a terrorist organization. The group says it is committed to peaceful activism.

The government is moving forward with a political transition plan that includes a January 14-15 referendum on a new constitution. Overseas voting was due to start on Wednesday.

Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who overthrew Mursi, is now widely seen as the leading contender to be elected president in an election that could happen as soon as April.

(Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy and Tom Perry; writing by Tom Perry; editing by Ralph Boulton and Elizabeth Piper)

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