CAIRO — Egyptian soccer fans rampaged through the heart of Cairo on Saturday, furious about the acquittal of seven police officers while death sentences against 21 alleged rioters were confirmed in a trial over a stadium melee that left 74 people dead.
At least five people were injured in the protests over the verdict, a Health Ministry official told the MENA state news agency.
The case of the Feb. 1, 2012 stadium riot in the city of Port Said at the northern tip of the Suez Canal has taken on political undertones not just because police faced allegations of negligence in the tragedy but also because the verdicts were announced at a time when Egypt is in the grip of the latest and most serious bout of political turmoil in the two years since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.
The court’s decision upheld the death sentences issued in late January against 21 people, most of them Port Said fans. The original verdict touched off violent riots in Port Said that left some 40 people dead, most shot by police.
On Saturday, 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 got 15 years terms each. The two were charged with gross negligence and failure to stop the killings. Twenty-eight people were acquitted, including seven police officials.
Also, Saturday’s verdicts were handed down against the backdrop of an unprecedented wave of strikes by the nation’s police force over demands for better working conditions and anger over what many believe are attempts by President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood to take control of the police force.
Tensions over the riot — which began when supporters of Port Said’s Al-Masry club set upon fans of Cairo’s Al-Ahly club after the final whistle of a league game that the home team won — have fueled some of the deadliest street violence in months.
Police guarding the stadium, meanwhile, faced allegations ranging from not searching people entering the stadium to failing to intervene to stop the bloodshed.