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Hosni Mubarak to allow independent monitoring of trial against members of Muslim Brotherhood

The rights group announced Friday Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak has been urged by Amnesty International to allow independent monitoring of a trial involving 40 members of the country's most considerable opposition movement.

The organization said it sent a letter to President Hosni Mubarak with its demands after legal observers from Amnesty and other human rights groups were prevented from entering the court during two previous hearings.

The trial, which resumes Sunday, is part of an ongoing government crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members hold almost 20 percent of the seats in the country's parliament and pose the most significant challenge to Mubarak's regime.

"We look to President Mubarak, as Egypt's highest authority, to open the doors to this important trial," said Amnesty's Secretary General Irene Khan in a written statement. "He should clear the way for it to receive the scrutiny it deserves."

The 40 Brotherhood members, which include some top leaders, are on trial in a military court on terrorism and money laundering charges. Civilian courts have twice ordered the release of several of the defendants, but the Interior Ministry has appealed those rulings.

Amnesty said it had attended previous military trials in Egypt, most recently in 2002, but that security officials turned away international and Egyptian observers during the most recent hearings in June and July without providing a reason.

Human rights groups in Egypt and abroad have repeatedly condemned the country's policy of trying civilians before military courts, which usually issue swift and harsh verdicts with no possibility of appeal - except for asking the president for clemency.

"Their use (of military trials) for highly-charged political cases - such as the current trial of leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood - suggests that the defendants may be denied a fair trial," said Khan.

The Brotherhood has been banned since 1954 but has continued to operate and is Egypt's most powerful opposition movement. Its lawmakers, who run as independents, hold 88 seats in the 454-seat parliament.