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Death sentences upheld over Port Said riots

Egypt court confirms death sentences for 21 people found guilty of sparking deadly football riots in 2012.
Last Modified: 09 Mar 2013 11:27

An Egyptian court has confirmed the death sentences of 21 Port Said football fans accused of sparking deadly riots at a stadium last year.

Listing the names of the 21, the judge said the court had confirmed "the death penalty by hanging".

In a ruling on live television on Saturday, the Cairo court also sentenced five more people to life in prison for the riots and acquitted 28. Others out of a total of 73 defendants received shorter jail sentences.

The death sentences, passed on January 28, have been a flashpoint for protests across the country.

The 74 football stadium deaths occurred in February 2012 at the end of a match between Cairo's Al-Ahly and local side Al-Masry.

Spectators were crushed when panicked crowds tried to escape from the stadium after a pitch invasion by supporters of Al-Masry. Others fell or were thrown from terraces. Most of the victims were fans of Al-Ahly.

Two senior policemen were sentenced on Saturday to 15 years in prison - former head of police security General Essam Samak and Brigadier General Mohammed Saad, who at the time of the riot had the keys to the stadium gates, which were locked.

The other seven police put on trial were acquitted. 

Witnesses have said that police deployed at the stadium were passively staying on the sidelines and did not interfere to stop the violence.

Celebration and condemnation

Thousands of Al-Ahly fans who had gathered outside the club's headquarters in Cairo welcomed the upholding of the death sentences. Fans also blocked the October bridge, one of the most vital bridges in the capital, in protest over the acquittal of the police officers.

State television said thousands of Al-Ahly fans stormed the police officers' club. Smoke was seen rising from the building. 

Meanwhile in Port Said, several hundred people, many of them relatives of the defendants, gathered outside the local government offices to vent their anger over the verdicts.

Most of those condemned to death were fans of Port Said's Al-Masry club. The verdicts led to protests in the city that left about 40 people dead, most of them shot by police.

Port Said has been a centre of violence in the latest wave of unrest to hit Egypt. Protests and clashes have erupted across the country since January 25, when hundreds of thousands marked the second anniversary of the start of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak's regime.

Many residents of Port Said, which is located at the northern tip of the Suez Canal, have seen the football trial as unjust and politicised, and football fans in the city have felt that authorities were biased in favour of Al-Ahly, Egypt's most powerful club.

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