Egypt: Fans go berserk after football riot verdict

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Cairo, March 9: Enraged sports fans burnt down the national football headquarters and a police club here after an Egyptian court on Saturday upheld death sentences for 21 accused in last year's deadly stadium riot that killed over 70 people in the city of Port Said.

Saturday's verdict in the football stadium trial had raised fears of renewed violence in the strife-torn country. After the death sentences were first announced in January, the news had led to a series of violent protests in the Suez Canal city that left 40 people dead.

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Shortly after the verdict was announced, thousands of fans of Cairo's Al-Ahly club went berserk, burning down a police club nearby and storming Egypt's football headquarters before setting it ablaze. Thick black smoke was seen billowing out over the Cairo skyline.

Most of the riot victims were supporters of Al-Ahly team, and fans were upset about the 'lenient' sentences.

As feared, the verdict failed to defuse tensions at a time when the whole nation is grappling with a political crisis, a weak economy and intensifying opposition to the rule of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

In Port Said, fans of the local Al-Masry club also accused the court of unfairness.

Ahead of the verdict, the army had assumed control in Port Said after the deadly unrest last week.

Meanwhile, police in some Egyptian provinces have been holding an unprecedented strike in protest at being used by Morsi's government to curb protests.

Earlier on Saturday, the court, sitting in Cairo amid security concerns, sentenced some of the remaining 52 defendants, including nine police officers, to prison and acquitted others but did not issue any more death sentences.

Port Said's former security chief, Essam Samak was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Judge Sobhi Abdel-Maguid sentenced five other defendants to life terms while nine beside Samak received 15 years in jail.

Six received 10 years in jail while two were jailed for five years. A single defendant got a 12-month jail term while 28 were acquitted.

The 21 football fans from Port Said's Al-Masry club were first sentenced to death in January.

At least 79 people had died and more than 1,000 injured in clashes between rival football fans at Port Said Stadium following a match between Al-Masry and Al Ahly clubs in February last year.

PTI

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