Egypt court orders Mubarak release as Islamists detained

An Egyptian court on Wednesday ordered ex-president Hosni Mubarak freed while he stands trial for corruption and killing protesters, as authorities pressed their roundup of supporters of his ousted Islamist successor Mohamed Morsi.

There was no indication of whether Mubarak's release was imminent and in the past, when courts have granted Mubarak conditional release, prosecutors have filed new charges to keep the former president detained.

Should Mubarak be freed, he still faces charges of corruption and complicity in the deaths of protesters during the early 2011 uprising that overthrew him, with his next hearing scheduled for Sunday.

The court decision added a volatile new element to the political turmoil that has gripped Egypt, leading to the deaths of nearly 1,000 people since last Wednesday.

The violence has prompted international criticism and the European Union was holding high-level talks on ties with Egypt on Wednesday.

Mubarak, who was ousted in Egypt's 2011 uprising, currently faces three criminal cases, on charges of corruption and the murder of protesters.

But the court decision on Wednesday could see him released while he faces the cases.

Authorities meanwhile continued to round up members of the Muslim Brotherhood, detaining overnight top Brotherhood preacher Safwat Hegazy, and a spokesman for the group's Freedom and Justice Party, Mourad Ali.

Hegazy was arrested near the Egyptian border with Libya, they said, while Ali was detained at Cairo airport as he tried to leave for Rome.

Since Morsi's July 3 ouster by the army, authorities have issued hundreds of detention orders and arrest warrants for Brotherhood members.

Dozens of its leaders have been rounded up, including, most recently, its supreme guide Mohamed Badie, who was detained in the early hours of Tuesday.

It was the first time a Brotherhood supreme guide has been detained since 1981.

The Brotherhood swiftly named deputy Mahmud Ezzat, described by experts as a "hawk" and conservative, to serve as interim guide.

Badie and two other senior Brotherhood leaders are expected to appear Sunday before a court on allegations they incited the murder of protesters in front of the Brotherhood's headquarters on June 30.

Egypt has experienced a week of unprecedented political bloodletting, which began on August 14 when security forces stormed two Cairo pro-Morsi protest camps.

The crackdown and resulting violence killed nearly 600 people in a single day, the bloodiest in Egypt's recent history.

It has been followed by days of violence that have seen the country's toll rise to nearly 1,000 dead, including 37 Islamist prisoners who died in custody on Sunday night.

But it excludes the toll in the Sinai peninsula, where militants have launched near daily attacks against police and army facilities.

On Monday, 25 policemen were killed in a single incident, when gunmen dragged them from two buses and executed them near the border with the Gaza Strip.

The incident, which prompted national condemnation and mourning, brought the week's toll in Sinai alone to 45, according to an AFP count.

The international community has responded with shock to the violence, and EU foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels Wednesday to consider a response.

Diplomats said the organisation was unlikely to cut the nearly 5 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in aid pledged for Egypt for 2012-13.

"We must very strongly condemn the violence. It is very important that Europe speaks up," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said as he arrived for the talks.

"We need to send a common, strong and clear signal for an end of the violence," said his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle. "Europe's influence is no doubt limited, but even this limited influence must be used."

The White House has criticised Badie's arrest, but denied reports it was halting its $1.3 billion annual aid package to Egypt.

On Tuesday, in an interview with ABC News, Egyptian prime minister Hazem el-Beblawi said it would be a "bad sign" for the US to cut off aid.

But, while he said a halt to US aid would "badly affect the military for some time," he insisted that "Egypt would survive" and could turn to other donors.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which backs the army-installed interim Egyptian government, has said it would step in with other Arab station to fill any funding gap if Washington halts aid.

The United Nations has sent top official Jeffrey Feltman to Cairo to mediate between the authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood.