Egypt's high court delays Mubarak verdict until June

CAIRO — Egypt's highest court said Wednesday that a verdict in deposed President Hosni Mubarak's murder trial won't be issued until June, presumably to prevent any disruption to presidential elections now scheduled for May.

The announcement came as Mubarak's former interior minister, Habib el Adly, one of the most despised men in the country, took the stand to give two hours of rambling, bizarre testimony in which he blamed the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah for fomenting instability in Egypt.

The session marked the final day in Mubarak's landmark trial on charges he ordered the killings of protesters in the uprising that toppled him a year ago. The verdict comes with a high risk of unrest, whatever the ruling. If Mubarak is found guilty, his supporters could retaliate; if he's acquitted, revolutionaries are sure to riot.

"Circus" and "spectacle" are two of the most common descriptions of the trial, which has been marred from the beginning by a temperamental judge, flimsy evidence, ill-prepared attorneys, fistfights in court and violent scuffles outside the trial venue in Cairo. Families of slain protesters, already disappointed with the slapdash proceedings, were even angrier Wednesday at the delay in a verdict.

Egypt's ruling military council is expected to hold presidential elections in May, part of its accelerated transfer of power to a civilian authority under mounting public discontent with the generals' handling of the transition. Analysts and activists viewed the June verdict date as a way for the council to delay any ensuing unrest until after the historic polls.

"It's a waste of time," said Mostafa Hassan, whose 24-year-old brother Mahmoud was killed on Jan. 28, 2011. "There are a lot of elements that don't want to present the truth; they're behind the scenes. The real criminals are the ones who implemented the orders, but the Interior Ministry is covering for them."

In his long testimony, reported by state media and a handful of reporters who were in court Wednesday, Adly, who also faces murder charges, denied giving orders to his men to shoot to kill at the unarmed protesters in downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square and other rebellious areas. He said tear gas was "the maximum use of force" he'd approved.

Adly described a plot led by two foreign militant groups, Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas, to kill protesters, orchestrate prison breaks for terrorists and criminals, and torch government property.

"I reaffirm before you that there were foreign saboteurs who desecrated Egypt's pure land and were supported by internal criminal elements with the aim of undermining Egypt's international and regional standing," Adly testified, according to a translation from the Associated Press.

Adly also boasted of his tenure as interior minister, saying that under his leadership the ministry had quashed terrorist activity that would've been ruinous for the economy and national security. Egyptians know a different Adly; human rights reports are filled with the testimonies of people who endured his forces' arbitrary arrests, corruption, torture and intimidation. He made full use of the notorious emergency law, which allowed the police broad power to search homes and hold suspects without charges for as long as they wanted.

When Adly attempted to offer condolences to the families of slain protesters, reports said, outraged attorneys for the defense shouted "Butcher!" and "Execution!"

The prosecution delivered its closing remarks Monday. Chief prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman demanded that Mubarak be held responsible for the deaths of protesters, arguing that the former president authorized the use of live ammunition and a shoot-to-kill policy that led to the deaths of more than 800 Egyptians during the 18-day uprising.

Yet even Suleiman's remarks suggested acknowledgment that the murder case against Mubarak was thin. Prosecutors offered no direct evidence that Mubarak had issued orders for lethal force, and a string of witnesses from the security forces offered conflicting or hostile testimony that further weakened the case.

"Even if the defense statement was true that the former president was not aware of such acts, he remains responsible by virtue of the constitution and the law, for all of these acts were committed while he was acting as a president," the state news agency MENA quoted Suleiman as saying.

Mubarak and his sons, Gamal and Alaa, who are standing trial on corruption charges, declined to defend themselves Wednesday. The court also heard a request from Egypt's newly seated Parliament to transfer Mubarak from a military hospital to medical facilities at Torah prison, where his sons and other regime figures are being held.

"I have no comment. What the lawyer said is sufficient," Mubarak told Chief Judge Ahmed Refaat, according to news reports.

The judge set June 2 as the date a verdict would be announced. Prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty. The defendants have the right to appeal.

(Al Desoukie is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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