Middle East

Egypt's Hosni Mubarak set for release from Tora jail

Hosni Mubarak in court in April 2013
Image caption Hosni Mubarak has appeared frail in some of his court appearances

Egyptian ex-President Hosni Mubarak is expected to be released and put under house arrest following a court order to release him in a corruption case.

A prosecutor on Thursday instructed Cairo's Tora prison to free Mr Mubarak - and the move is expected imminently.

Officials say his house arrest would be "in the context of the emergency law" currently in place across the country.

The ex-leader still faces charges of complicity in the killing of protesters during the 2011 revolt that ousted him.

He was sentenced to life in jail last year, but a retrial was later ordered after his appeal was upheld.

That retrial opened in May but Mr Mubarak, 85, has now served the maximum amount of pre-trial detention permitted in the case.

'Symbolic sign'

On Thursday, the state prosecutor in the case sent the release order to Tora prison - the final step before the ex-leader actually could leave the jail.

A helicopter later arrived at Tora to transfer Mr Mubarak, Egypt's media reported.

Dozens of Mubarak supporters - some waving Egyptian flags - gathered outside the prison in anticipation of his release.

The court ruling came during Wednesday's hearing on charges that the former president had accepted gifts from state-run publisher al-Ahram.

The court said its decision was final and no appeal would be allowed.

Prosecutors have previously brought new charges when courts have ordered Mr Mubarak's release - a move intended to keep the ailing ex-leader in detention.

However, the office of Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said later that Mr Mubarak would be placed under house arrest after his release.

"In the context of the emergency law, the deputy military commander issued an order that Hosni Mubarak should be put under house arrest," the office said in a statement.

Egypt is under a state of emergency amid the bloodshed which has accompanied the interim government's crackdown on Islamists opposed to the army's ousting of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on 3 July.

Hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood - the movement from which Mr Morsi comes - have been detained, including its most senior leader Mohammed Badie, who was wanted over alleged incitement to violence and murder,

Analysts say Mr Mubarak's release - if it happens - will be seen by many as a symbolic sign the military is rolling back the changes that flowed from the 2011 uprising.

Western reaction

European Union foreign ministers on Wednesday held urgent talks to determine a response to the clampdown.

At the meeting in Brussels, they agreed to stop export licences on military equipment to Egypt and to reassess security co-operation.

Arms are provided by individual countries rather than the EU as a whole, mostly by Germany, France and Spain. The UK has already suspended some of its military help.

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Media captionCatherine Ashton: "I think ministers have been extremely concerned about the levels of violence"

But the 28-member block's humanitarian aid to Egypt remains unaffected, despite calls from some EU politicians to cut the assistance after more than 900 people were killed in clashes last week.

The violence erupted as security forces cleared two sit-ins in Cairo by people demanding the reinstatement of Mr Morsi.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Baroness Catherine Ashton, said: "Assistance to the most needy will remain. All member states feel very strongly they want to continue to support the people of Egypt."

She earlier offered to mediate a political solution to the crisis.

In Washington, senior officials discussed on Tuesday whether to reduce the $1.3bn (£830m) in military aid that the US gives Egypt every year. The meeting reportedly produced no imminent changes to US policy.