Soccer stadium hearing threatens Egypt with more unrest

CAIRO Sat Jan 26, 2013 5:03am IST

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian soccer fans have threatened violence on Saturday if a court does not deliver the justice they seek for 74 people killed in a stadium disaster.

The hearing over the Port Said disaster in February follows unrest on Friday that killed five people and injured more than 330 during anti-government protests on the second anniversary of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

The court had been due to rule on Saturday in the cases brought against 73 people, 61 of whom are charged with murder in what was Egypt's worst stadium disaster.

However, the public prosecutor has said new evidence has emerged, meaning a verdict may be postponed.

Another 12 defendants, including nine police officers, are accused of helping to cause the February 1, 2012, disaster at the end of a match between Cairo's Al Ahly and al-Masri, the local side.

Expecting a verdict, hardcore Al Ahly fans, known as ultras, have protested in Cairo over the last week, obstructing the transport network. The Port Said disaster triggered days of street battles near the Interior Ministry in Cairo last year.

The ultras have blamed the deaths on the military council that was governing Egypt at the time of the disaster a year ago, accusing it of planning the incident for political reasons.

Saturday would be "a decisive day for many", the Al Ahly ultras declared on their Facebook page on Friday. "Beware of our anger: justice or blood", they wrote.

Many fans accused security forces of causing the disaster to punish them for taking a frontline role in the street revolt that toppled Mubarak in 2011. A parliamentary inquiry last year blamed fans and shoddy policing for the deaths.

The ultras consider their dead as martyrs of Egypt's revolution - a status officially conferred on them this week by President Mohamed Mursi, who assumed power from the military council after winning an election in June.

The focus of protester rage during Friday's demonstrations, Mursi faces discontent on many levels, including frustration at the perceived failure to secure justice for those killed in the anti-Mubarak uprising and the following period of military rule.

Protesters accuse Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood of seeking to dominate the country and betraying the revolution. The Brotherhood dismisses such accusations as part of a smear campaign by its rivals.

Street battles erupted in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Port Said and elsewhere. Arsonists attacked at least two state-owned buildings as symbols of government were targeted. An office used by the Muslim Brotherhood's political party was also torched.

(Editing by Robert Woodward)

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