Violence erupts in Egypt

Jan 28, 2013, 07:58 IST | AFP

Death sentence for 21 kicks off violence in Port Said

Violence erupted in Port Said on Saturday after a court in the capital sentenced 21 people to death over a football riot that killed more than 70 people in the Egyptian canal city last year.

The Cairo court has now handed the verdict to the country’s top cleric for his final opinion. Executions in Egypt must be authorised by the Grand Mufti.

Smoke emerges out of a burning minibus belonging to a satellite channel after it was set on fire by Egyptian protesters outside the Port Said prison on Saturday. Pic/AFP

It also set March 9 for handing down the verdicts of the remaining 52 defendants in the case, including nine police officers.

The clashes in Port Said in February last year between fans of home side Al-Masry and Cairo’s Al-Ahly left more than 70 people dead and sparked days of violent protests in Cairo, in which another 16 people were killed.

As news of Saturday’s verdict emerged, relatives of those sentenced to death tried to storm the prison in Port Said where they were being held, leading to fierce clashes with security forces.

Unidentified assailants also fired automatic weapons in the direction of police who responded with tear gas, witnesses said. Armoured personnel vehicles were deployed to disperse the protesters, as fighting raged in some streets around the prison and shops closed for the day.

Explosions of joy
Both inside and outside the court in Cairo, there were explosions of joy. Women ululated, relatives hugged and shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).

One man who lost his son in the Port Said clashes wept outside the court, telling AFP: “I am satisfied with the verdict.”

Another, Hassan Mustafa, had pinned a picture of his friend who died in Port Said to his chest. He said he was pleased with the verdict, but wanted “justice served for those who planned the killing.”

Many Egyptians believe the rioting was orchestrated either by the police or by supporters of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

Hardcore fans of Al-Ahly club known as the Ultras, who played a key role in the 2011 uprising that toppled the veteran strongman, had been taking to the streets to demand severe punishment for those responsible for the stadium deaths.

The sentences come after a day of clashes in Cairo marking the revolution's second anniversary left at least seven people dead and 456 injured.

Tens of thousands took to the streets across the capital to protest against Islamist President Mohamed Morsi who is accused of failing the revolution that brought him to the presidency and of consolidating power in the hands of his Muslim Brotherhood.

Friday’s clashes underscore the deep divisions in the Arab world's most populous nation which is struggling to find a balance between an Islamist leadership boasting the legitimacy of the ballot box and a wide-ranging opposition calling for freedoms and the separation of state from religion.

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