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Cries of 'Butcher!' halt trial of Egypt's ex-security chief

Uprising victims' families protested in court. Meanwhile, a cleric asked mercy for Mubarak.

CAIRO - An Egyptian judge on Saturday postponed the trial of the country's former interior minister and four of his top aides in the deadly shootings of protesters, after chaos broke out in the courtroom with families of the victims shouting, "Butcher! Butcher!" at the defendants.

Habib el-Adly is the highest-ranking former regime official to be brought to trial so far in the killings of 846 protesters and the wounding of thousands of others during the uprising that forced President Hosni Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11. If convicted, Adly could face the death penalty.

Meanwhile, in the port city of Alexandria, the trial resumed Saturday of two police officers accused in the killing of an Egyptian whose death helped spark the uprising that toppled Mubarak. A judge set June 30 for a verdict in the highly charged case.

As Mubarak's interior minister for 13 years, Adly presided over the 500,000-strong security forces blamed for some of the worst human-rights violations Egypt had seen in decades.

Outside the heavily guarded courtroom north of Cairo on Saturday, families of the victims held up pictures of their dead relatives and posters calling for the death penalty. They pushed down security barricades in their rush to enter the courtroom. Once inside, the families shouted, "Butcher!" at Adly.

The chaos prompted the judge to postpone the trial to June 26. Plaintiffs' lawyers presented a request for a different judge because of what they said was his friendship with Adly.

Also Saturday, a German newspaper reported that Egypt's top Sunni Muslim cleric said Mubarak should be granted mercy instead of facing prosecution.

Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand sheik of Cairo's Al-Azhar institution, was quoted in the German weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung's Sunday edition as saying that "mercy should prevail over justice," given Mubarak's achievements and poor health.

"One should consider that Mubarak has done a lot for Egypt over a long time. He's an old and sick man. Mercy should prevail over justice," the sheik was quoted as saying.