Egypt's deposed President Mohammed Morsi appeared in court Monday on the first day of his trial, rejecting its legitimacy and demanding "coup" leaders be prosecuted, as thousands of his supporters rallied.
In his first public appearance four months after the military toppled him, Morsi was indignant and outraged as he attended the courtroom at a police academy in east Cairo.
Morsi and 14 co-defendants are accused of inciting violence and the murder of protesters outside his presidential palace in December, charges that could lead to the death penalty or life in prison.
"I am Dr. Mohammed Morsi, the president of the republic... This court is illegal," Morsi told the opening hearing of his trial.
The Islamist leader slammed his overthrow by the army on July 3 after mass protests against his single year of turbulent rule.
"This was a military coup. The leaders of the coup should be tried. A coup is treason and a crime," he said.
Amid tight security, Morsi was flown in to the police academy by helicopter before arriving in the courtroom wearing a dark blue suit rather than the customary white detention clothes.
As he walked in, two of his co-defendants, senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders Essam al-Erian and Mohammed al-Beltagui chanted "Down with military rule" the hearing, and applauded Morsi.
Judge Ahmed Sabry Youssef banned cameras and recording equipment from the courtroom.
Morsi's supporters, battered by a bloody and sweeping police crackdown, accuse the army-installed government of fabricating the charges against the Islamist leader and on Monday rallied at several places in the capital against the military.
Outside, dozens of them brandished posters of Morsi and signs bearing anti-military messages. Thousands also protested in front of the constitutional court in the south of the capital.
"Morsi's trial is a farce. The criminals are trying the legitimate president," said one of them, Ibrahim Abdel Samd.
Tensions were also high in front of the high court in downtown Cairo where pro- and anti-Morsi supporters had gathered.
Security forces completely closed Nahda Square -- site of a bloody crackdown on Morsi supporters in August -- and Cairo University, while military vehicles guarded police stations.
The authorities deployed 20,000 policemen for the trial, and warned they were ready to deal with any violence.
Morsi, who the army has held at a secret location since his ouster, is accused along with the other 14 of inciting the murder of protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012.
The trial, which was adjourned to January 8, is seen as a test for Egypt's new authorities, who have come under fire for their heavy-handedness.
With more than 1,000 people killed since Morsi's overthrow and thousands of Islamists arrested, hopes for a political settlement are slim.
"Morsi's presence in the court will definitely energize his supporters and raise possibilities of new protests and clashes," said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center think-tank.
Amnesty International said Morsi should be granted a fair trial, including the right to challenge evidence against him.
"Failing to do so would further call into question the motives behind his trial," said the watchdog's Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
But analysts believe the political nature of the trial will drive its outcome.
"This is first and foremost a political trial and an important one. There is zero chance of it being free and fair," said Hamid.
On the eve of the court case, the foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said Morsi "will have rights to a free and fair trial".
Morsi was catapulted from the underground offices of the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood to become Egypt's first democratically elected president in June 2012.
His victory was made possible by the 2011 uprising that toppled autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.
But his stint at the helm was marred by political turmoil, deadly clashes and a crippling economic crisis.
In November 2012, Morsi decreed himself sweeping powers, prompting opponents to accuse him of failing the ideals of the revolution.
It was a turning-point that launched the worst polarization in Egypt's recent history.
A month later, deadly clashes erupted outside the presidential palace between the Islamist's supporters and opponents. Morsi is facing allegations of inciting that violence.
Accusing police of failing to protect the president, the Brotherhood called on its supporters to confront the protesters. At least seven people were killed in the clashes that erupted on December 5 last year.
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