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Thousands march in Egypt's Port Said over deaths

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

* Football stadium case a flashpoint for unrest

* Court to give final ruling on death sentence

* Thousands take to streets of Mediterranean city

By Yusri Mohamed

PORT SAID, Egypt, March 8 (Reuters) - Thousands of Egyptians packed the streets of the Suez Canal city of Port Said on Friday in protest at the deaths of local people in clashes with police and ahead of a court decision in a contentious football riot case.

Violence has flared in Port Said since January, with protests over death sentences given to 21 local people in connection with a stadium riot in which more than 70 died.

The football stadium deaths occurred last February at the end of a match between Cairo's Al Ahly and al-Masry, the local side, and have been a flashpoint for protests across Egypt.

Spectators were crushed when panicked crowds tried to escape from the stadium after a pitch invasion by supporters of al-Masry. Others fell or were thrown from terraces, witnesses said.

The confirmation of the verdicts of those accused of involvement in the disaster is expected on Saturday in Cairo and could spark off more unrest in Port Said and the capital.

A protester in Port Said died of a bullet wound to the head on Friday which he sustained in clashes with police earlier in the week, a medical source said. Another protester died during the night after violence on Thursday.

Protesters holding flags chanted "With our blood we will redeem you, Port Said!" and "The people want to bring down the regime", the signature chant of the demonstrators who crushed Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule in 2011.

The protesters also called for the departure of police forces and shouted slogans against President Mohamed Mursi.

At least eight people have been killed in this week's protests in the city, including three policemen.

The army said it had formed a security cordon around the central security directorate building in Port Said and local government offices. The officers are there to protect the area and stop bloodshed but not police the people because that is not their job, Major General Ahmed Wasfi said.

SECURITY

Authorities ramped up security in Port Said and in Cairo ahead of the final court ruling and will deploy 2,000 police officers around the police academy in Cairo, where the football stadium hearing will be held, the state news agency MENA reported, citing a source in the Interior Ministry.

Defendants will be transported in armoured vehicles, MENA said. In Cairo, there were skirmishes between dozens of protesters and police on a bridge near Tahrir Square, the heart of the 2011 uprising.

Egypt's revolution installed an elected Islamist-led government which is still struggling to assert its authority, restore order and revive the economy.

The security situation has deteriorated and police officers have been striking across the country, saying they do not have enough weapons and officers to deal with the unrest.

Hundreds of police refused to work for a third day at a base outside Ismailia, about 70 km (45 miles) south of Port Said, demanding more arms after several of their colleagues were killed in recent clashes.

Thousands of Egyptian riot police and conscripts also went on strike on Wednesday to demand the resignation of the Interior Minister, saying he is too close to the country's Islamist leadership, security sources said.

The Interior Ministry has been at the forefront of clashes involving the mainly young protesters, who complain that Mursi has done little to reform the police since the revolution.

Five police stations went on strike in Port Said on Friday in solidarity with the protests, state news agency MENA said.

On Thursday, Bedouin gunmen in the Sinai briefly kidnapped the country boss of U.S. oil major ExxonMobil and his wife. (Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Michael Roddy)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130308/thousands-march-egypts-port-said-over-deaths