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Published: Wednesday January 8, 2014 MYT 9:00:11 PM
Updated: Wednesday January 8, 2014 MYT 9:00:11 PM

Deposed Mursi misses Cairo court hearing after bad weather

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

The military-backed government has cracked down hard on Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood since his overthrow, arresting almost its entire leadership and thousands of its backers as well as formally declaring it a terrorist organisation. The Brotherhood says it is committed to peaceful activism.

The case against Mursi pertains to violence outside the presidential palace during unrest in late 2012 ignited by a decree that expanded his powers. Around a dozen people were killed at the time. Fourteen other Islamists are standing trial with Mursi.

He had been due in court on Tuesday for the second session of his trial, in which he could face the death penalty.

State media earlier reported that Mursi, who is being held separately from other Muslim 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 MENA, 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 armour were deployed in nearby streets.

"THICK FOG"

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, in comments reported by MENA, said the pilot had been worried about taking off "because of bad weather and thick fog in Alexandria".

He denied reports that Mursi had refused to attend after Essam el-Erian, another Islamist politician on trial in the same case, told reporters in the courtroom that he had not shown up for that reason.

Fog in Alexandria forced one commercial flight to be redirected to Cyprus on Wednesday morning, the director of the airport in the Mediterranean coastal city said.

The military 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".

Police arrested 17 Mursi supporters outside the police academy on Wednesday, according to an Interior Ministry statement that described them as "members and supporters of the terrorist Brotherhood organisation" and accused them of rioting. Security forces also closed off central Cairo's Tahrir Square.

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

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.

The army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who overthrew Mursi, is now widely seen as the top 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 Michael Georgy and Mark Heinrich)

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