Egypt Tense Ahead Of Port Said Football Riot Verdicts

A court in Egypt is due to deliver verdicts in cases involving last year’s deadly football riots, amid continuing protests and police strikes.

Fifty-two defendants – including nine policemen – will be judged over the riots in Port Said, which left 74 people dead.

Twenty-one local football fans were already sentenced to death in January.

On Friday, the military took over security duties from the police in the coastal city to try to defuse tensions.

Elsewhere, at least 10 of Egypt’s 29 provinces were affected by an unprecedented strike by thousands of low-ranking police. Some units reportedly left their headquarters after sealing them with chains.

They were protesting against being forced by the government of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi to confront protesters as well as a lack of protection from prosecution.

The chief of security forces was replaced on Friday to try to defuse anger among police.

Six days of clashes
The verdicts are expected later on Saturday by the court, which is sitting in the capital Cairo for security reasons.

After word spread that the defendants were being moved outside Port Said, the city saw six days of clashes between police and protesters around the security headquarters.

At least seven people – civilians and security officials – were killed.

The death sentences imposed on the 21 defendants in January sparked a revolt in Port Said, where many residents saw the trial as unjust and politically biased.

Most of the victims in last year’s riots were supporters of Cairo’s Al-Ahly club. Al-Ahly fans have pledged mass protests if Saturday’s verdicts are lenient.

Moreover, police anger could be further fueled if the nine police defendants get heavy sentences.

There has been widespread antagonism towards the police since the mass protests which brought down former President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

And many people believe police in Port Said stood by in revenge for the fans’ role in the anti-Mubarak unrest. Police deny the accusation.