CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt ordered ousted President Hosni Mubarak detained for 15 days on Wednesday for questioning into accusations he abused power during his 30-year rule, embezzled funds and had protesters killed.
State television said Mubarak, 82, and his sons Gamal and Alaa would appear before a Cairo judge next Tuesday for questioning after the public prosecutor ordered their detention.
News of the detentions won the country’s ruling generals a respite from demonstrators, who have demanded punishment for Mubarak, whose rule was brought to an end on February 11 by an 18-day mass uprising in which more than 380 protesters died.
The ousted leader was summoned by the prosecutor for questioning on Sunday. Officials said he was questioned on Tuesday before being brought to the intensive care unit of a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh with what state media called a “heart crisis.”
Reports differed on how serious the illness was. A doctor appointed by the judiciary was examining Mubarak to see if he could be moved to another hospital, a medical source said.
“The doctor’s check-up is part of the judicial process to determine where to question the ex-president,” the source said.
Mubarak denied wrongdoing on Sunday in his first public comments since stepping down.
Washington, a close ally throughout Mubarak’s rule, called his detention an internal Egyptian matter. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: “Egypt is navigating a very difficult transition. It’s trying to set in place democratic process but it’s really a matter for the Egyptian government to address.”
A security source told Reuters Mubarak was likely to remain for security reasons in detention in Sharm el-Sheikh, where he has been in internal exile since quitting.
A source cited by the official news agency MENA said Mubarak would be moved from the hospital to a place of detention once his health permits, but the site had yet to be determined.
Al Jazeera television reported earlier that an army helicopter had arrived in Sharm to take him to Cairo. A security source told Reuters: “the helicopter has left without him because his health is unstable.”
Half a dozen dark blue state security trucks were parked outside the hospital on Wednesday and roads leading to the building were blocked off by state security, witnesses said.
Mubarak’s sons were taken to a prison on the outskirts of Cairo, joining a list of ex-ministers and officials under investigation and held in the same jail, MENA said.
Gamal, 47, Mubarak’s younger son, held a top post in the ruling party. Many Egyptians believed he was being groomed for top office, though both father and son denied any such plan.
“This is a serious step forward in holding the president accountable and ends any suspicion that the state and the military were in cahoots with Mubarak,” said Hassan Nafaa, a political scientist and activist for reform.
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians protested on Friday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square against delays in trying Mubarak and criticised Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the army council head who was Mubarak’s defence minister for 20 years.
Activists say plans for a protest this Friday were on hold to see how swift a trial would be.
Political analyst Fahmy Hueidi said: “The army succumbed to people pressure to bring Mubarak and family to justice.”
On Tuesday, soldiers broke up a five-day sit-in at Cairo’s Tahrir Square, centre of the January uprising. Protesters had vowed to keep up the pressure, but many Egyptians are tired of protests that have hit the economy and disrupted their lives.
The timing of Mubarak’s illness prompted scepticism among some protesters about the motives of the army, which has pushed for swift elections to hand over power. The army praised and thanked Mubarak when he left office, but protesters criticised him for ruling by emergency law and widening a rich-poor divide.
Mubarak went to Germany for gall bladder surgery in March 2010. There were often rumours about his health, especially after his last bout of surgery.
Additional reporting by Tom Pfeiffer, Dina Zayed, Asmaa Waguih and Patrick Werr; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Peter Graff