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Mubarak to face trial in deaths

If convicted, death sentence possible. Sons also accused.

CAIRO - Deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will stand trial on charges related to the shooting deaths of protesters during the country's 18-day revolt, the country's prosecutor-general announced Tuesday.

If convicted, Mubarak could face the death penalty, a spokesman for the prosecutor said.

Mubarak, 83, his sons, Gamal and Alaa, and a close business associate who is at large, Hussein Salem, also will face charges of abusing power to amass wealth, the prosecutor said in a statement.

Salem was part-owner of a company involved in an Egyptian government deal to sell natural gas to Israel that is now under investigation.

The charges were announced days before thousands of demonstrators are to rally in downtown Cairo to demand, among other things, tougher action against the Mubaraks. Some activists said the announcement seemed intended to slow momentum for the protest planned for Friday. Organizers hope it will draw as many as a million.

State media said Mubarak remained hospitalized. His sons are among a slew of former regime figures who await prosecution in a notorious Cairo prison. No dates were announced for the trials, which will be before a civilian criminal court.

Besides prosecution of the Mubaraks, activists want an end to the country's decades-old emergency law, the dissolution of municipal councils, and the creation of an advisory panel to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The council, which has run Egypt since Mubarak stepped down Feb. 11, has been accused of improperly prosecuting protesters in military courts.

Refaat Ahmad, 24, a cofounder of a community development nonprofit, said he still planned to be at the rally.

"The more we pressure, the more they offer scapegoats and put more corrupt figures to trial," Ahmad said, referring to the ruling generals.

In what seems to be another gesture to quell the anger over the court process, the government released all but a handful of activists who were detained from recent protests in Tahrir Square and outside the Israeli Embassy.

Activists said that speedy, transparent trials of former regime officials would do wonders for restoring public faith in the judicial branch, which had exercised virtually no independence under Mubarak.

So far, the only conviction of a major regime figure has come in the case of the detested former interior minister, Habib el-Adly, who was sentenced to 12 years for corruption.

Egyptians, however, are more concerned with the charges Adly still faces: ordering the killings of protesters as the head of the nation's feared police and security apparatus. His next court date is June 26.

Some Egyptians marveled at the prospect of seeing a formerly all-powerful president, wearing a prison uniform, standing before a judge.

"We never had any laws questioning governors or ministers, so now to see the president put to criminal trial is a sign the country is taking steps forward, and that confidence will start building between the people and the Supreme Council," said Filiopater Gamil, a priest at a church in Giza and the general organizer of recent demonstrations by Egypt's Coptic Christian minority.

At least 846 people died in the Egyptian uprising, and more than 6,400 were injured, many of them permanently, according to a government fact-finding committee.

This month, revolutionary groups were outraged by news that Mubarak's wife, Suzanne, would receive immunity from prosecution in exchange for handing over two bank accounts and a villa in Cairo.

The former first lady's bank accounts contained $3 million, according to state media. Protesters dismissed that sum as pennies compared with the tens of millions they suspect were embezzled throughout Mubarak's three decades in power.

Amnesty International, the international human-rights advocacy group, praised the military council Tuesday for Prosecutor-General Mahmoud Abdel-Meguid's announcement, saying in a statement that "the trial must offer the victims and their families the chance to confront the defendants and get answers."