OUSTED Egyptian leader Mohamed Mursi has struck a defiant tone on the first day of his trial, chanting "Down with military rule" and calling himself the country's only "legitimate" president.

Mr Mursi, an Islamist who was toppled by the army in July after mass protests against him, appeared angry and interrupted yesterday's court session repeatedly, prompting a judge eventually to adjourn the trial until the new year.

Opponents of Egypt's army-backed government say the trial is part of a campaign to crush Mr Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood movement and revive a police state reminiscent of Hosni Mubarak's three decades of autocratic rule that ended in a 2011 popular revolt.

Mr Mursi, 62, who spent time in Mr Mubarak's jails before becoming Egypt's first freely elected president after the country's Arab Spring revolution, found himself behind bars again this year facing charges of inciting violence that could carry the death penalty.

It is the second time in just more than two years an overthrown president has been in court in Egypt. The trial is taking place in the same venue where Mr Mubarak has also faced a retrial for complicity in ­killing protesters.

After stepping out of a white van and buttoning his jacket, Mr Mursi appeared in a cage in a court set up in a sprawling police academy beside other Islamist defendants, who were in white prison garb. They applauded when Mr Mursi arrived, gave the Brotherhood's four-fingered salute, and at times turned their backs on the court.

Mr Mursi, who state media said had refused to wear prison clothes, told the court: "This trial is illegitimate. This is a criminal military coup."

He had travelled to the heavily guarded courthouse from an undisclosed location by helicopter.

Hundreds of his supporters ­gathered outside the court and the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood has said it will not abandon the street protests it has staged to pressure the army to reinstate Mursi.

But a heavy security presence across the country served as a reminder of a crackdown earlier this year in which hundreds of Mursi supporters were killed and thousands more rounded up.

Mr Mursi and 14 other Islamists face charges of inciting violence relating to the deaths of about a dozen people in clashes outside the presidential palace in December after Mr Mursi enraged opponents with a decree expanding his powers.

The military establishment's return to the forefront of power in Egypt prompted Washington to cut some military aid, but US Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting Cairo on Sunday, expressed guarded optimism about a return to democracy.

The uprising that toppled Mr Mubarak in 2011 had raised hopes that Egypt would embrace democracy and human rights and eventually enjoy economic prosperity.

Instead, the power struggle between the Brotherhood and the army-backed government has created more uncertainty which has hit tourism and investment.

The Brotherhood had won every election since Mr Mubarak's fall and eventually propelled Mr Mursi into power after the Islamist movement endured repression under one dictator after another.

But millions of Egyptians who grew disillusioned with Mr Mursi's troubled one-year rule took to the streets this summer to demand his resignation. They accused him of usurping power and mismanaging the economy.