Egypt Protesters Torch Buildings, Target Suez Canal After Court Ruling on Deadly Soccer Riots

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Port Said Egypt rally
People in Port Said, Egypt, celebrate with a military officer Saturday, March 9, 2013, after hearing the final verdict of the 2012 Port Said massacre.

Egyptian protesters torched buildings and tried to disrupt commerce on the Suez Canal Saturday, after a Cairo court reaffirmed the death sentences of 21 people convicted of instigating a deadly soccer riot last year.

The ruling enraged residents of Port Said, located at the northern entrance of the canal, by ordering execution of the local soccer fans for their role in the riot, which killed 70 people. After the court sentenced those 21 people – most of them Port Said fans – to death in January, rioting erupted in the city that resulted in 40 fatalities. Most of the dead were shot by police.

On Saturday the court announced its verdict for the other 52 defendants, sentencing 45 to prison, including two senior police officers. But the court also angered rival Cairo fans by acquitting an additional 28 defendants, including seven police officials.

So far two people – a man in his 30s and a young boy – have been reported dead as a result of rubber bullets and tear gas deployed against protesters on Saturday, according to Reuters. Sixty-five people were injured.

The ruling, which has spurred weeks of violence in a country beset by worsening security conditions, has brought closure to few,  The Washington Post reports. Citizens claim police violence and a lack of government transparency in the two years since the fall of autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak have them losing faith in the new democratic government.

“We feel a great injustice,” said Mohamed el-Sakka, a 21-year-old protester in Port Said, told the newspaper. “We have learned that the judiciary can be very politicized, that things happen without us knowing, behind our backs. We have completely lost faith in the judiciary.” 

Hundreds of soccer fans stormed the streets of Port Said on Saturday after the sentencing. In Cairo, fans of the Al-Ahly club team – most of the riot fatalities were Al-Ahly fans – set a police club and the nation’s football federation headquarters on fire.

The Al-Ahly fans, known as Ultras, condemned the police acquittals in a statement posted to the club’s Facebook page, writing: “What is happening in Cairo today is but the start of anger, and [we can] expect more if all of the parties involved in the massacre are not revealed.” 

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