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Riots erupt in Egyptian city over police trials

CAIRO – Hundreds of Egyptian protesters lobbed rocks at the security headquarters and set fire to police cars for a second day Wednesday in a flashpoint city as growing impatience over delays in trying former regime officials and police accused of killing protesters threatened to plunge the nation back into crisis.

In a bid to defuse rising anger, the Interior Ministry announced that hundreds of high-ranking police officers will be fired for their role in the harsh crackdown on anti-government protests earlier this year that left nearly 850 people dead. Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawi said in a statement that it will be the largest shake up in the history of his ministry.

Justice for those who killed demonstrators has become a rallying point for the protest movement, nearly five months after Hosni Mubarak was ousted in an uprising after a nearly three-decade rule marred by complaints of widespread corruption and police abuse.

Many Egyptians believe that Mubarak and some of his rule’s much-hated faces have been removed. However, the pillars of his regime are still in place, including the pivotal judiciary.

The two days of rioting in Suez – a city at the southern tip of the strategic Suez Canal that saw some of the most dramatic confrontations between police and protesters – was prompted by anger over a court order on Monday to release seven police officers charged with killing demonstrators.

Prosecutor-General Mahmoud Abdel-Meguid had promised to appeal the court order and return the police officers to jail in a bid to appease the protesters. But another court upheld the decision Wednesday, prompting protesters to pour back into the streets.

Young men smashed the building’s windows with stones and burned a number of police vehicles. Then they attacked the city’s main court complex.

“The courts are corrupt. They are complicit in denying us justice,” said Ahmed el-Ganadi, whose son had been killed in the earlier protests. “We will no longer wait for a court decision to get our retribution.”

Protesters also are angry over Tuesday’s decision to acquit three former government ministers over corruption allegations.

Many lawyers said the ruling was legally sound but cast doubt on the objectivity of the prosecutor-general, who was himself appointed under Mubarak’s regime, saying he was rushing flimsy cases to court without a thorough investigation.

Only one policeman has been convicted in more than a dozen court cases over the deaths of people killed in the government crackdown on protesters. He was tried in absentia. Mubarak and his two sons also face charges of killing protesters and amassing illegal wealth. Their trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 3.