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Trial of Egypt’s former security chief postponed

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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 shooting 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 injury of thousands of others during the uprising that forced ex-president Hosni Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11. If convicted, el-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, El-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 el-Adly.

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

Meanwhile, the trial in Alexandria of police officers Mahmoud Salah and Awad Ismail Suleiman resumed for the first time since Mubarak's ouster.

They are accused in the brutal beating death of 28-year-old Khaled Said, whose slaying served as a rallying point for activists campaigning against widespread human rights abuses under Mubarak. They set up a Facebook page that was instrumental in mobilizing the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets for 18 days in January and February.

The circumstances of Said's June 2010 slaying — he was dragged out of an Internet cafe by two plainclothes police officers and beaten to death — resonated with many young Egyptians who, like him, use the Internet. It was never clear why the officers targeted Said.

His death sparked intermittent street protests in Cairo and Alexandria for months.

Security forces and forensic reports initially maintained Said suffocated after swallowing a packet of drugs — a claim met with derision after photos of Said's corpse were circulated showing his body covered with bruises, his teeth broken and jaw smashed.

After a public outcry, prosecutors charged Salah and Suleiman with illegal arrest and harsh treatment, although not with murder as the victim's family had demanded.

The trial has dragged on for months. It was postponed repeatedly after Mubarak's ouster as court officials said it would be difficult to secure the proceeding.

On Saturday, hundreds of supporters of Said's family protested outside the courtroom, some holding up a zucchini, a symbol among Egyptians of abuse of authority to circumvent the law.

Lawyer Mohammed Abdel-Aziz said many had expected a verdict, but the judge adjourned the session and said a verdict would be handed down on June 30.