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11 to face death over 2012 Egypt football riot

PORT-SAID-RIOTSCAIRO, April 19- An Egyptian court Sunday sentenced 11 football fans to death after a retrial over a 2012 stadium riot in the canal city of Port Said that left 74 people dead.

An appeals court had ordered the retrial of 73 defendants in February last year after rejecting a lower court verdict sentencing 21 people to death for being involved in the incident.

The riot erupted in February 2012 when fans of home team Al-Masry and Cairo’s Al-Ahly clashed after a premier league match between the two clubs.

Sunday’s death sentences against 11 football fans have been referred to Egypt’s grand mufti.

The court will make a final decision on their fates, as well as those of the other defendants, on May 30.

The 73 defendants include nine police officers and three officials from Al-Masry club, while the rest were fans of Al-Masry club.

Two of those sentenced to death are on the run.

None of the families of the victims or of the defendants attended Sunday’s court session, which was held in Cairo for security reasons.

Sunday’s verdict can be appealed.

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The 2012 clashes in the Port Said stadium sparked days of violent protests in Cairo, in which another 16 people were killed in fighting with security forces.

A year later, dozens of people also died in the canal city during clashes that erupted after the lower court handed down the 21 death sentences.

The Port Said riots were the deadliest sport-related riots in Egypt, where football fans regularly clash against rival supporters or with security forces.

The authorities reacted by imposing a ban on fans attending premier league matches and held the games behind closed doors.

But on February 8, at least 19 people died in a stampede after police fired tear gas at fans trying to force their way into a Cairo stadium for a premier league match that was open to the public.

Television footage showed crowds squeezed inside a narrow metal enclosure, jostling to enter the stadium when the stampede erupted as police fired tear gas.

The police reject the accusations and blame the unrest on Islamists. Sixteen suspects accused of clashing with police on that day have been arrested and referred to trial.

Since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, his supporters have been the target of a brutal government crackdown overseen by his successor President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Egypt’s hard-core football fans, the “ultras”, have often clashed with police, including in political unrest that has seen two presidents toppled since 2011.

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The “ultras” were at the forefront of protests against long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down in early 2011 after an 18-day uprising against his rule.

That uprising was essentially against the police, who were regularly accused of torturing detainees and of being involved in extra-judicial executions.

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