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death sentences

Rival football fans in Egypt have protested over sentences handed down over riots at a match in Port Said in February 2012.

The court upheld 21 death sentences and handed down prison terms to other defendants over the violence, which claimed 74 lives.

Most victims were supporters of a Cairo team, and fans there criticized the sentencing for not going far enough.

In Port Said, fans of the local team accused the court of unfairness.

Many people believe police in the city stood by during the rioting in revenge for the role of football supporters in the unrest which toppled Hosni Mubarak as president a year before. Police deny the accusation.

Ahead of Saturday’s sentencing, the army assumed policing in Port Said, which saw fresh unrest last week.

Police in at least 10 of Egypt’s 29 provinces have been holding an unprecedented strike in protest at being used by the government of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi to confront protesters.

Fans had surged through the streets to attend a rally at their stadium, and a police club and the Egyptian football federation building were set alight in the chaos.

Both buildings are close to the team’s stadium and a senior security official was quoted as saying by AFP news agency that some fans had stormed the club and torched it.

Confirming the capital punishment sentences, Judge Sobhi Abdel-Maguid specified “the death penalty by hanging”.

Fans had surged through the streets to attend a rally at their stadium, and a police club and the Egyptian football federation building were set alight in the chaos

Fans had surged through the streets to attend a rally at their stadium, and a police club and the Egyptian football federation building were set alight in the chaos

In addition:

  • Port Said governorate security chief Essam Eddin Samak and nine other defendants were each sentenced to 15 years in jail
  • Six received 10-year jail terms and two were sent to prison for five years
  • A single defendant got a 12-month jail term and 28 of the accused, including seven policemen, walked free

The court’s verdicts, broadcast live on TV, were initially cheered by fans of Cairo’s al-Ahly team, who are known as the Ultras.

“First we were happy when we heard the 21 death sentences,” one fan told AFP news agency.

“We were cheering and didn’t hear the rest of the verdict. Then we were very angry.”

Two demonstrators died on Saturday in Cairo in clashes with police, said the head of the city’s ambulance service. One was killed following inhalation of tear gas and the second by birdshot.

The clashes, near Tahrir Square, were originally thought to be connected to the football riot trial, but it later transpired to be unrelated. Unrest in the area flared up last week when police tried to open Tahrir Square to traffic.

In Port Said, fans of local team al-Masri were already angry that all of those sentenced to death were supporters of the team.

Two senior police officers were jailed but seven other security officials were acquitted, fuelling local resentment.

Some demonstrators tried to block the Suez Canal by untying speedboats and setting them adrift while others sought to interrupt car ferry traffic.

Military police recovered five of the speedboats and brought them back to shore, but two were still drifting, one witness told Reuters news agency.

However, the canal was protected by troops backed by tanks, and military helicopters hovered above the crowd.

Before Saturday, the canal, a global shipping route, was considered off-limits by protesters, correspondents say.

At least seven people – civilians and security officials – died earlier this week in unrest in the city.

The original death sentences imposed on the 21 defendants in January sparked a local revolt.

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Gu Kailai, wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai, has been given a suspended death sentence for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Gu Kailai did not contest charges at her one-day trial that she poisoned Neil Heywood in November 2011.

Suspended death sentences are usually commuted to life imprisonment in China.

Bo Xilai, the former communist party chief in Chongqing, was once seen as a contender for a national leadership position in a top-level reshuffle later this year.

But he has not been seen in public since the investigation into Gu Kailai was announced.

Gu Kailai’s aide, Zhang Xiaojun, was jailed for nine years for his part in the murder.

The verdict in China’s most high-profile trial for years came early on Monday, inside a court ringed by security personnel.

Gu Kailai has been given a suspended death sentence for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood

Gu Kailai has been given a suspended death sentence for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood

Chinese state media reported that during the 9 August trial – which was not open to all – Gu Kailai admitted she poisoned Neil Heywood in a hotel room in Chongqing, helped by her aide.

She said she had suffered a mental breakdown and that Neil Heywood had threatened her son amid a row over a property deal, state media said.

Images shown on Chinese state television showed Gu Kailai responding to the verdict.

“This verdict is just. It shows special respect for the law, reality and life,” she said.

Speaking after the sentence was announced, court spokesman Tang Yigan said the court believed Neil Heywood had threatened Gu Kailai’s son but not acted on the threats. It also found Gu had been suffering from “psychological impairment”, he said.

In a statement, the British embassy in Beijing said its thoughts were with the family of Neil Heywood.

“We welcome the fact that the Chinese authorities have investigated the death of Neil Heywood, and tried those they identified as responsible,” the statement said.

“We consistently made clear to the Chinese authorities that we wanted to see the trials in this case conform to international human rights standards and for the death penalty not to be applied.”

A lawyer for the Heywood family said they respected the court’s decision.

The sentence of death with a two-year suspension means that if Gu Kailai commits no crimes while in prison, her sentence will be commuted after two years to life imprisonment and could be further reduced for good behavior, Chinese legal expert Professor Donald Clarke writes in his blog.

Chinese internet users reacted immediately to the verdict on Twitter-like microblogging platforms.

With key names connected to the case still apparently censored, most used the phrase “suspended death sentence”. Within two hours, there were at least two million posts.

Many users expressed dissatisfaction, saying most murderers in China would be executed. Some attributed it to Gu Kailai’s background, others suggested she could eventually be freed under medical parole.

At a separate trial on 10 August, four senior police officers from Chongqing admitted charges of covering up evidence linking Gu Kailai to the murder. A court official said they had been given terms of between five and 11 years in prison, AFP reported.

Neil Heywood’s death was initially recorded as a heart attack.

The case came to light when Bo Xilai’s deputy, police chief Wang Lijun, fled to the US consulate in February, reportedly with information connected to the case.

He has not been seen in public since then and state media say he is being investigated.

It is not yet known how the Communist Party plans to deal with Bo Xilai, once seen as a powerful and ambitious high-flier.

Many analysts expected him to be promoted to the nine-strong politburo Standing Committee later in the year.

Seven committee members are due to retire, with a new generation of leaders to take their place at a party congress expected later this year.

But Bo Xilai has been stripped of his official posts and is being investigated for “discipline violations”, state media reports say.

A lengthy Xinhua news agency write-up of Gu Kailai’s trial, however, made no mention of Bo Xilai.


• 6 February: Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun flees to the US consulate in Chengdu

• 15 March: Bo Xilai is removed from his post in Chongqing

• 20 March: Rumors suggest Bo Xilai could be linked to the death of British businessman Neil Heywood

• 10 April: Bo Xilai is suspended from party posts and his wife, Gu Kailai, is investigated over Neil Heywood’s death

• 26 July: Gu Kailai and Bo family employee Zhang Xiaojun are charged with killing Neil Heywood

• 9 August: Gu Kailai goes on trial for murder

• 20 August: Gu Kailai given suspended death sentence