March 9, 2013 / 9:08 AM / 6 years ago

Egypt court confirms death sentences in flashpoint soccer riot case

CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court confirmed on Saturday death sentences handed down to 21 soccer fans for their role in a stadium riot which killed dozens of people in Port Said last year, a case which has provoked violent protests in the Suez Canal city.

The court also jailed two senior police officers for 15 years for their role in the riot in February 2012, in which more than 70 people died.

Unrest has plagued Port Said since the death sentences were first announced on January 26, with local residents who want the fans spared fighting pitched battles with police. At least eight people have been killed this week, including three policemen.

The case has highlighted worsening law and order in much of Egypt since the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak two years ago.

The Islamist government of President Mohamed Mursi is struggling to halt the slide in security, hampered by a strike by some police in protests that are likely to be fuelled by Saturday’s jail sentences for the senior officers.

Listing the names of the 21 fans, the judge said the Cairo court had confirmed “the death penalty by hanging”. In a ruling on live TV, the court also sentenced five more people to life in jail for the riot and acquitted 28. Others out of a total of 73 defendants received shorter jail sentences.

Central Port Said was quiet following the court ruling, with the army maintaining security after the government pulled out police, who have been hated by many Egyptians since the Mubarak era, to ease tensions.

The stadium riot erupted at the end of a match between Cairo’s Al-Ahly team and Al-Masry, the local side.

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.

Many fans of the Cairo side were happy with the ruling on Saturday confirming the death sentences. “This is a just verdict and has calmed us all down. Our martyrs have been vindicated,” Said Sayyid, 21, told Reuters.

Reporting by Marwa Awad; Writing by David Stamp; Editing by Pravin Char

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