Egypt: Death Sentences Spark Deadly Riots

Two football players are among 30 people killed in riots in the Egyptian city of Port Said following the sentencing to death of 21 fans.

Violence erupted after a judge sentenced the 21 people to death over a post-match riot in February last year that killed 74 fans of the Cairo-based Al Ahly team.

All of the people sentenced to death were fans of Port Said's main team, Al Masry.

Minutes after the Cairo court handed down the sentences, protesters rampaged through Port Said, attacking police stations and setting tyres alight.

Relatives tried to storm the prison in Port Said where those convicted were being held, leading to fierce clashes with security forces that killed two policemen.

The two players were shot to death as they were apparently on their way to practice near the prison.

The director of hospitals, Dr Abdel Raham Farah, said Mahmoud Abdel Halim al Dizawi, a football player in the city's Al Marikh club, had been shot three times and died.

He said Tamer al Fahla, who used to play for the Al Masry team, had also been shot dead on his way to the Al Marikh club.

Shops in Port Said were closed and armoured personnel vehicles deployed as fighting raged in streets around the prison.

Unidentified assailants used automatic weapons against police, who responded with tear gas, witnesses said.

Both inside and outside the Cairo court, there were explosions of joy at the verdict, which was broadcast live on Egyptian TV.

Relatives of those killed hugged each other and shouted "God is greatest".

A man who lost his son in the February clashes wept outside the court and said he was satisfied with the sentences.

Football fans from both teams hold the police at least partially responsible for the deaths and criticised Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi for doing little to reform the force.

Doctors treating the victims of the February riots said some had been stabbed to death. One player caught up in the rioting described it as "a war".

Witnesses said most of the deaths involved people who had been trampled in the crush of panicked crowds, or who fell from terraces.

The post-match riot - the world's deadliest football violence in 15 years - also sparked days of protests in the capital, in which another 16 people were killed.

The judge said in his statement that he would announce the verdict for the remaining 52 defendants on March 9. Among those on trial are nine security officials.

As is customary in Egypt, the death sentences will be sent to religious authority, the Grand Mufti, for approval.

Executions in Egypt are usually carried out by hanging.

The latest violence came a day after nine people were killed in protests against the president on the second anniversary of Egypt's uprising against the former president, Hosni Mubarak.

Violence also broke out in Suez on Saturday night after hundreds of masked militants stormed a police station and set fire to the building. All prisoners being held at the station were also freed.

There have been hours of clashes in Suez, with police firing tear gas to try to hold back the demonstrators.

Britain's Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said such violence "can have no place in a truly democratic Egypt".

"We call on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and to ensure that all protests remain peaceful. I offer the condolences of the UK to the families of all the victims," he said.

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