Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Protester dies during Cairo clashes

Smoke and fire rises from the Egyptian Football Federation after protesters set fires following a court verdict (AP)
Egyptian soccer fans of Al-Ahly club in front of their club premises in Cairo (AP)

A protester has died of tear gas inhalation during clashes between Egyptian police and hundreds of stone-throwing demonstrators in central Cairo.

Security officials said the protester died on a Nile-side road where clashes have been taking place daily between anti-government protesters and police near two luxury hotels and the US and British embassies.

The clashes are unrelated to the protests going on elsewhere in Cairo by soccer fans furious with a court decision to acquit seven police officials for their alleged role in a deadly stadium riot last year.

Earlier, the Egyptian court confirmed the death sentences against 21 people for taking part in the deadly football riot. Suspected fans enraged by the verdict torched the football federation headquarters and a police club in Cairo in protest.

The trial over the melee that killed 74 people after a football 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. After the court sentenced the 21 people - most of them Port Said fans - to death in late January, violent riots erupted in the city that left some 40 people dead, most of them 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-year terms each. Twenty-eight people were acquitted, including seven police officials.

As expected, the court's decision failed to defuse tensions over the case, which has taken on political undercurrents at a time when the entire nation 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, suspected fans of Cairo's Al-Ahly club who had gathered in the thousands outside the team's headquarters in central Cairo went on a rampage, torching a police club nearby and storming Egypt's soccer federation headquarters before setting it ablaze.

The twin fires sent plumes of thick black smoke billowing out over the Cairo skyline. Two army helicopters were being used to put out the fires. At least five people were injured in the protests, a Health Ministry official told the MENA state news agency. In anticipation of more violence, authorities beefed up security near the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police force, with riot police deploying in the streets around the complex in central Cairo.

Earlier at the courthouse across town, Judge Sobhi Abdel-Maguid read out the verdict live on TV, sentencing five defendants to life in prison and nine others to 15 years in jail. Six defendants received 10-year jail terms, two more got five years and a single defendant received a 12-month sentence.