A senior police officer said at the trial of Hosni Mubarak on Monday he was not aware of any order to fire on protesters who ousted him, as supporters and opponents of the deposed Egyptian president scuffled inside and outside the courtroom.
Mubarak is charged with involvement in killing protesters and "inciting" some officers to use live ammunition in the first trial of an Arab leader in person since street unrest erupted across the Middle East earlier this year.
About 850 people died in the protests that erupted on January 25 and ended Mubarak's three decades in office on February 11.
Mubarak, 83, hospitalised since April, was wheeled on a gurney into a metal defendants' cage in the court for the third session of his trial and the first to take witness testimony.
The trial has riveted Egyptians and stoked tensions between supporters and opponents of Mubarak.
"In my 30 years of experience with state security, I have not heard of any incident where an order was given to use live ammunition against protesters," police officer general Hussein Saeed Mohamed Mursi, 54, told the court.
Mursi, head of communication in the state security service, was in the police operations room during the uprising. Three other senior officers were to give testimony on Monday.
Proceedings were delayed by a fight in the court when a Mubarak supporter lifted up a photo of the former president, angering relatives of victims of the uprising. Lawyers for plaintiffs also entered the fray.
Police stepped in to separate them, those in court said. The agitation prompted Judge Ahmed Refaat to call a recess.
In the last session, the judge banned live television coverage inside the chamber.
Outside, supporters chanted: "He gave us 30 years of protection, Mubarak hold your head up high."
Nearby, anti-Mubarak protesters hurled stones at police lines and some officers threw rocks back. At one point police with shields and batons charged a group of demonstrators.
"He has to be hanged. We don't want any more delays in the court session," said Mohamed Essam, who had travelled to Cairo from the Nile Delta town of Kafr el-Sheikh.
A man with blood on his face shouted: "I call on the free Egyptian people, the youth of the revolution, to see what state security is doing with the revolutionaries."
Many Egyptians are furious at police for their tactics in the uprising against Mubarak. Witnesses said police used tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets and live ammunition.
Mursi described events on Jan. 28, one of the most violent days, when he said police were ordered to prevent protesters from reaching Tahrir Square, the centre of the protests.
"The orders were to deal with the protesters as the situation mandated and the freedom was left to them to deal with protesters in a manner that they saw fit," Mursi said.
A state television reporter said the prosecution questioned Mursi, saying that in previous statements he had said he had been aware of orders from former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli to use weapons to disperse protesters in front of the Interior Ministry, prisons and police stations.
Some following the case were angered by the testimony, saying it confirmed suspicions of some Egyptians that the trial was for show but would not hold Mubarak or others to account.
"It is not real and it shows that Mubarak and his aides are still in power in the executive and judiciary authorities," Gamal Zahran, former independent parliamentarian, told Reuters.
"I saw three shot dead by police myself during the uprising and I have filed a complaint to the public prosecutor on that."
Mursi also told the court he overheard a conversation between top officers in the operations room, including those standing trial with Mubarak, saying they did not have reinforcements to protect jails and the Interior Ministry, prompting the officers to release weapons and ammunition.
The ammunition and weapons were transferred in ambulances because police vehicles were targeted, Mursi told the court.
Adli, Mubarak's interior minister for years, is standing trial with the former president. Also on trial are Mubarak's two sons, Gamal and Alaa, and six police officers.
Many police stations were stormed and burned down during the height of the violence in the 18-day revolt. Many police vehicles were also attacked, overturned and torched.
The three other witnesses to be called by the court are police officers who were also in the police operations room during the uprising. The court named them as Emad Badr Saeed, Bassim Mohamed el-Otaify and Mahmoud Galal Abdel Hamid.