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Protests Erupt in Egypt After Port Said Ruling

Thousands of rival fans take to the streets; neither side happy with court decisions

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Egyptian police helicopter flies through smoke form fires set by protesters at police officers' club in Cairo, following ruling ( AP / Maya Alleruzzo)Anger and unrest in the Egyptian city of Port Said exploded once again Saturday, following a mixed court verdict over last year's soccer stadium riots, which saw the death of over 70 fans.

On Saturday, a court in the port city upheld the death sentences of 21 people found guilty of causing the riot at a soccer match in February 2012.  Those convicted, al-Masri fans, are believed to have attacked fans of their rival team, al-Ahli, after the match.

Additionally, as Middle East expert Juan Cole has pointed out, many believe the al-Masri fans "were hand in glove with Old Regime security officials who wanted to punish the al-Ahli ultras for their role in making the revolution against Hosni Mubarak."

On trial were both al-Masri fans and former police involved in the deadly match. Of an additional 52 defendants in the case, 24 were sentenced to jail, including two senior police officers who received 15 years. The remaining 28 were acquitted, including seven police officers.

In response to Saturday's ruling, however, both sides of the conflict were angered. Thousands of football fans on both sides of the conflict took to the streets in Cairo and Port Said.

In Port Said, supporters of al-Masri, were dismayed by the 21 death sentences; in Cairo, supporters of al-Ahli were angered that only two of the nine police officers on trial, whom they had largely blamed for allowing the riot to take place, had been convicted.

In Cairo, al-Ahli fans set fire to a police social club and the nearby offices of the Egyptian Soccer Federation, sending smoke rising over the capital, Reuters reports.

In Port Said, residents tried to block the canal and attacked the football stadium, the Guardian reports.

Unrest has persisted in Port Said since the death sentences were first handed down to the Al-Masri supporters in January, with locals who believe the accused to be innocent 'scapegoats' of the riots. Protests in the city have continued throughout the week. Police clashed with protesters on multiple occasions leading to the death of at least eight people.

On Friday, police forces withdrew from the city; Egyptian military personnel were ordered to move in, but only to protect the Port Said Security Directorate, not to perform police duties, army spokesman Ahmed Ali announced on Friday.

Likewise, Police strikes and protests have commenced around the country. The striking police say they are unfairly blamed for deadly crackdowns on protesters, of which they have been a part of—instead accusing President Mohammed Morsi of using them to fight his enemies. In at least 10 of the country's 29 provinces, some units sealed their stations with chains, while some called for the removal of their boss, the interior minister, appointed by Morsi.Fans of al-Ahly in front of their club in Cairo after court ruling, March 9, 2013 (AP / Amr Nabil)

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