Detained incommunicado since his July overthrow, Mohamed Morsi practically burst into the defendants' cage as his murder trial began Monday to declare that he is still Egypt's president.

It was in the same court -- and in the same cage -- that his predecessor Hosni Mubarak stood trial on similar charges over the deaths of protesters during the first of Egypt's two revolts in three years.

But unlike the stretcher-bound Mubarak, Morsi, wearing a dark blue suit, entered the dock overflowing with defiance and to the applause of his co-defendants.

"I am Dr Mohamed Morsi, the president of the republic," he announced when the judge called his name among the list of seven defendants sharing the cage.

Morsi, the country's first freely elected president, was ousted by the military on July 3 after millions of people took to the streets to call for his resignation, accusing him of failing the revolution that brought him to power.

His greying beard closely trimmed, Morsi smiled and waved at his supporters and lawyers packing the benches of the lecture hall in the police academy.

He also upbraided the judge and lectured policemen stationed outside the cage.

"What is happening now is a cover for a military coup. I cannot accept for the judiciary to become a cover for the military coup," he yelled.

"This won't do, this won't do," said the judge, Ahmed Sabry Youssef.

"I am here involuntarily, and through force," Morsi said. The judge called a recess.

The Islamist had built a reputation for stubbornness and making lengthy speeches, and both traits were on display during Monday's hearing.

"I want a microphone," he demanded when the judge asked him whether he would accept a lawyer in the courtroom.

"This is not a court," he said. "This is not a court with the jurisdiction to try a president.

"This was a military coup. The leaders of the coup should be tried. A coup is treason and a crime," he added, before the judge called another recess.

"Don't allow anyone to fool you," Morsi said, turning his attention to the police guards. "So you don't become enemies of the people."

As Morsi spoke, some Egyptian journalists tried to drown him out, shouting "Execution! Execution!"

When state television aired footage of the hearing -- unlike in Mubarak's trial, it decided against a live broadcast -- none of this was shown in the piece which muted the fallen leader.

Morsi's co-defendants, all former aides or Islamist activists, also bristled when their names were called by the judge, interrupting the session to chant: "Down with military rule!"

They turned their backs on the judge and flashed a four-finger salute, the symbol of a pro-Morsi protest camp that police dispersed in August, killing hundreds of people.

The defendants face an array of charges, with some accused of the premeditated murder of opposition protesters and others, including Morsi, of ordering the violence.

The charges stem from an attack by members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood on opposition protesters staging a sit-in outside the presidential palace last December.

At least seven people were killed in the clashes, but Morsi and his co-defendants are on trial for the deaths of three people -- a journalist and two opposition protesters.

The Muslim Brotherhood said four more who died were members of the organisation.

The trial was adjourned to January 8.

 

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