The trial of more than 70 soccer fans charged with causing a riot that left scores dead has begun in Cairo. As defendants shouted from a courtroom cage, the judge was forced to repeatedly adjourn the proceedings.
The opening day of the trial was punctuated by defendants yelling "God is great" as they pleaded not guilty for the deaths of more than 70 people in the worst case of football violence in Egypt's history. Instead, they laid the blame on police, who witnesses say did little to prevent the rioting.
"We will get them their justice or die like them," defendants hollered from a courtroom cage, echoing the chant on the streets during the protests that followed the disaster in the city of Port Said on February 1.
Sixty-one of the defendants face murder charges. Others are accused of possessing weapons. Nine police officers are also in the dock, charged with negligence in checking fans entering the stadium for weapons. A light engineer in on trial for turning off the stadium lights after the riot began, enabling perpetrators to escape.
Over 70 people were killed and hundreds injured when fans of the Al-Masry and Al-Ahly Cairo football clubs clashed after a match between the two sides in the city of Port Said, the former club's hometown. Al-Ahly supporters had invaded the pitch after their team won 3-1, prompting Al-Masry fans armed with knives, batons and rocks to attack them.
Most of the dead were members of Al-Ahly, whose most ardent fans, called Ultras, are viewed as having played a special role in the uprising that led to President Hosni Mubarak's ouster last year. Some say that police purposely avoided stopping the attacks in order to punish Al-Ahly supporters.
The prosecutor on Tuesday said the Al-Masry fans started the violence "in revenge for prior differences between them and in a show of force."
The killings prompted days of riots in Cairo that left another 16 people dead.
The trial is being held in the capital for security reasons. It is due to resume on May 5.
ncy/sej (SID, AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)