- - Wednesday, August 3, 2011

CAIRO — Egypt’s ousted ruler faced charges of corruption and murder inside a courtroom cage in Cairo on Wednesday as Syrian tanks shelled the restive northern city of Hama in an ongoing crackdown that drew the condemnation of the U.N. Security Council.

Wednesday offered stark contrasts in the “Arab Spring,” the grass-roots anti-government movement that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February and has been met with brutal resistance by Syrian President Bashar Assad since March.

In Cairo, Mr. Mubarak, his two sons and seven other defendants were formally charged with “premeditated murder” in the deaths of hundreds of protesters at the hands of security forces during the 18-day rebellion that overthrew his 29-year rule.

Mr. Mubarak and sons Gamal and Alaa also are accused of taking gifts from a businessman in exchange for concessions in a state land deal.

Looking weak but defiant, the 83-year-old ex-dictator was wheeled into the courtroom on a hospital gurney. He is suffering from cancer and reportedly slipped into a coma last month.

SIEGE: Smoke rises from a tank Wednesday as troops continue a crackdown in Hama, Syria, that is reported to have cost about 100 lives since Sunday. (Shaam News Network via Associated Press)
SIEGE: Smoke rises from a tank Wednesday as troops continue a crackdown ... more >

Outside the courthouse, demonstrators called for the death penalty for Mr. Mubarak, who governed Egypt for nearly 30 years and faces a public trial by the people he ruled with autocratic ruthlessness.

“Execution. Nothing else,” said Rakia Mohamed, whose son was killed by a police officer in a Jan. 28 protest against the Mubarak regime. “Just like he used to try people publicly and let them die publicly, he should get the same treatment.

“He is a citizen just like the rest of the citizens now,” the grieving mother said. “He used to rule the people; now the people will rule against him.”

In Syria, opposition leaders and human rights activists accused the Assad regime of using the distraction of the Mubarak trial to bear down on anti-government demonstrators.

“Hama is being collectively punished for its peaceful protests calling for the downfall of Bashar Assad,” said Suheir Atassi, a prominent pro-democracy activist.

Like many other Syria-based activists, Ms. Atassi has gone largely into hiding and spoke to the Associated Press via email. “The Syrian regime is committing crimes against humanity. Where are the free people of the world?” she asked.

At least three tanks took up positions in Hama’s central Assi square, which in recent weeks had been the site of carnivallike demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of protesters calling for the downfall of Mr. Assad’s regime.

A religiously conservative city about 130 miles north of the capital with a history of dissent, Hama had largely fallen out of government control since June as residents turned on the regime and blockaded the streets against encroaching tanks.

But Syrian security forces backed by tanks and snipers launched a ferocious military offensive that left corpses in streets on Sunday, tightening their siege on Hama and sending residents fleeing for their lives.

The death toll since Sunday has reached about 100, but the exact figure is difficult to verify. About 1,700 civilians have been killed since the largely peaceful protests against Mr. Assad’s regime began in mid-March, according to tallies by activists.

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