Egypt's president orders probe of protester deaths

Associated Press
In this image released by the Egyptian President, Egyptian Field Marshal Gen. Hussein Tantawi, left, and new President Mohammed Morsi, center, attend a medal ceremony, at a military base east of Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, July 5, 2012. A Palestinian official says Gaza's prime minister will head to Cairo within the next two weeks to meet with Egypt's new Islamist president, who has close ties with the territory's Hamas rulers. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abd El Moaty, Egyptian Presidency)
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In this image released by the Egyptian President, Egyptian Field Marshal Gen. Hussein Tantawi, left, and new President Mohammed Morsi, center, attend a medal ceremony, at a military base east of Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, July 5, 2012. A Palestinian official says Gaza's prime minister will head to Cairo within the next two weeks to meet with Egypt's new Islamist president, who has close ties with the territory's Hamas rulers. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abd El Moaty, Egyptian Presidency)

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's new president appointed a fact-finding committee to investigate the killing of protesters since the outbreak of last year's popular uprising that toppled his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

The decree issued late Thursday by Mohammed Morsi, who was sworn-in as president last week, orders a review of the investigations and trials related to the killing of nearly 1,000 protesters from Jan. 25, 2011, until June 30, 2012, when Morsi was sworn-in as president.

The new 16-member committee is tasked with reopening files from the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak and those who died in clashes with police and soldiers in protests after Feb. 11, 2011, when Mubarak stepped down and a ruling council of generals took power.

Egypt's official MENA news agency said judges, a state prosecutor, a general and a top police commander along with six representatives of victims' families were appointed to the committee. The group is to report its findings to the president within two months.

A key question, however, was whether the committee will have the right — or power — to investigate the military.

Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, noted that the army enjoys "de facto impunity" because only the military itself can investigate and prosecute its officers.

"This committee could go some way toward pushing for accountability for excessive use of force ... but I don't see it as having the capacity to recommend punishment of military officers," she said.

One of the main demands of protesters over the past 16 months has been justice and retribution for those killed and wounded in protests.

Morsi, who was detained under longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak along with other fellow Muslim Brotherhood members at the start of the uprising, promised during the presidential campaign that if elected, he would order new inquiries into the killing of unarmed protesters.

Last month, Mubarak and his interior minister were sentenced to life in prison for their roles in killing protesters during the 18-day revolt that unseated him. The former president was found guilty for failing to stop the killings.

The verdict enraged Egyptians demanding answers as to who ordered the killings. Six top police commanders were acquitted in the case.

Tens of thousands took to the streets last month to call for a new investigation and trial. They also demanded the ouster of the Mubarak-appointed attorney general, whose office prosecuted the case.

Separately, Egyptian security officials said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns arrived in Egypt Friday for a three-day visit in which he will meet with the new president. Burns will be the highest ranking U.S. official to meet Morsi since his swearing-in last week.

The visit comes ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's planned trip to Egypt later this month.

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