Protests as seven go free after fatal Egypt riot

AN EGYPTIAN court ­yesterday confirmed the death sentences on 21 people for taking part in a deadly football riot but ­cleared seven police officials for their alleged role in the violence.

Protesters, enraged by the verdict, torched the football federation headquarters and a police club in Cairo in protest.

The trial over the riot that killed 74 people after a game in the city of Port Said in early 2012 has been the source of some of the worst unrest to hit Egypt in recent weeks.

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After the court sentenced the 21 people – most of them Port Said fans – to death in late January, violence erupted in the city that left some 40 people dead, most of them shot by police.

Yesterday the court announced its verdict for the other 52 defendants in the case, sentencing 45 of them to prison, including two senior police officers who each received 15-year terms. Twenty-eight people were acquitted, including seven police officials.

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As expected, the court’s decision failed to defuse tensions over the case, which has taken on political undercurrents at a time when Egypt is mired in ­political turmoil, a worsening economy and growing opposition to the rule of ­Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.

Shortly after the verdict was announced yesterday, suspected fans of Cairo’s Al-Ahly club who had gathered outside the team’s headquarters in central Cairo went on a rampage, torching a police club nearby and storming Egypt’s football federation headquarters before setting it ablaze.

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At least five people were injured in the protests, said a health ministry official.

The court’s decision on the nine Port Said security officers on trial was among its most highly anticipated – and potentially explosive – verdicts. In the end, the judges sentenced the city’s former security chief, Major General Essam Samak, and a colonel to 15 years in prison each, while the others were acquitted.

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Al-Ahly’s fans accuse the police of collusion in the killing of their fellow ­supporters, arguing that they had advance knowledge of plans by supporters of Port Said’s Al-Masry team to attack them.