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Mubarak's retrial collapses as judge abruptly walks out

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sits inside a cage in a courtroom at the police academy in Cairo April 13, 2013. The retrial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was aborted on Saturday when the presiding judge withdrew from the case and referred it to another court, causing an indefinite delay that sparked anger in the courtroom. REUTERS/Stringer (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)

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By The Los Angeles Times
Saturday, April 13, 2013, 8:45 p.m.

CAIRO — The judge in the murder retrial of Hosni Mubarak abruptly withdrew from the case on Saturday, igniting shouts of frustration in the court and delaying the decision on the deposed president's fate over the actions of his police and army during the 2011 revolution.

The recusal of Judge Mostafa Hassan Abdallah causes further frustration for many Egyptians in a case that has come to symbolize the elusiveness of justice in this tumultuous Arab nation, where many had hoped a change of power would usher in a transparent democracy.

The slow process of justice for Mubarak and other former government officials adds to deep suspicion of the court system amid worsening economic turmoil.

“This whole institution of the judiciary is cast in shadows. It has taken a position against the people,” Amir Salem, a lawyer for families of some of the people killed during the uprising, told The Washington Post.

Mubarak, despite his reputed frailty, looked more robust than in past court sessions. Wheeled into the defendant's cage on a stretcher, the 84-year-old smiled and waved to supporters on hand at the trial on charges of complicity in the killings of more than 850 protesters.

The judge said he felt “unease” at presiding over the trial and referred it to a Cairo appeals court. Lawyers representing the families of victims had petitioned to remove Abdallah, a Mubarak appointee, because he had acquitted former officials of plotting a Feb. 2, 2011, attack on protesters by assailants riding horses and camels through Tahrir Square.

The trial's delay and Mubarak's smug demeanor raised questions over whether he would be punished for the bloody final days of his rule.

As the judge hurried from the bench and Mubarak's sons, Alaa and Gamal, both on trial for corruption, flanked their father in a wire-mesh cage, relatives of dead demonstrators chanted: “The people demand the execution of Mubarak!”

Hundreds of protesters died and many more were “injured, and we must get their rights,” said Khaled Abu Bakr, a lawyer for relatives of victims. “We can't have expectations about the final verdict now, but we are monitoring the procedures, and we know things are moving in the right direction.”

The retrial was ordered in January after an appeals court overturned the convictions and life sentences for Mubarak and his interior minister, Habib Adli.

The Islamist-led government of President Mohamed Morsy welcomed a second trial as a chance to win tougher sentences against Mubarak and other former top officials accused of billions of dollars' worth of corruption.

Mubarak and Adli were charged with not stopping a deadly crackdown on demonstrators. No evidence was introduced linking Mubarak to the killings or being apprised of the extent of the violence.

A government investigation ordered by Morsy and expected to be introduced at the new trial, however, suggests Mubarak followed the police brutality via a live television feed.

Some Egyptians have grown bored or even sympathetic to Mubarak, who has a host of health problems, as the court case slowly winds its way through a second year and many other former officials have been acquitted for lack of evidence.

“It's a cold case. You and I have to follow it, but everyone else is tired of it,” Saad Abdel Wahed, a retired head of the Giza Criminal Court, told a Post reporter.

“When I saw Mubarak today wearing his sunglasses and smiling, you kind of knew what was going to happen,” Abdel Wahed said. “I don't like him, but we have this expression, ‘You only appreciate your mother when you meet you stepmother.'

“The trial is just symbolic to people now. They have bigger issues to worry about.”

The Washington Post contributed to this report.

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