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Egypt court acquits 169 Muslim Brotherhood supporters

CAIRO, May 19, (Agencies): An Egyptian court acquitted 169 Muslim Brotherhood supporters charged in connection with unrest that followed the overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi last year, breaking a pattern of mass convictions at trials involving the Islamist opposition. The men were charged with “illegal gathering” in relation to violence in Cairo on Aug 16 last year, two days after the security forces killed hundreds of Morsi supporters while breaking up their protest camps in the capital. Of those charged, 117 were still being held. They will now be freed. Others charged in the case had already been released. Further details on the ruling were not immediately available.

The authorities have jailed thousands of Morsi supporters since the army deposed the Brotherhood politician last July following mass protests against his rule. Earlier this year, a judge issued preliminary death sentences against 1,200 Brotherhood supporters and members in two separate cases, triggering heavy condemnation from Western governments and human rights groups. The convicted included the group’s leader, Mohamed Badie. Rights groups criticised the trials for deep procedural flaws, and despite the acquittals, other courts are continuing with convictions. A judge in Alexandria on Monday convicted 62 people and sentenced them to jail terms of up to 25 years in relation to political violence last July.

The judge also upheld the death penalty against one of those charged in the case. This came a day after more than 160 Brotherhood supporters were handed sentences of up to 15 years in prison. Morsi’s overthrow triggered the worst bout of internal strife in Egypt’s modern history, with many hundreds of his supporters killed. Several hundred policemen and soldiers have also died in a campaign of bombings and shootings since last year. Meanwhile, the European Union said Monday it will observe next week’s presidential election in Egypt after authorities allowed in communications equipment, two days after announcing the mission had been scrapped.

The EU, which had accepted an invitation from the military-installed authorities to monitor the May 26-27 election, had said on Saturday it would be unable to do its job after Egyptian customs held up the equipment. “The European Union observer mission is able to continue (its mission). However, it will have to make adjustments,” Mario David, the head of the EU observer mission, told reporters in Cairo. A team of 45 observers was already in Cairo and would soon deploy across the country, said the EU parliamentarian from Portugal. David said he had already met the two candidates — frontrunner Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who led the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last year, and leftist leader Hamdeen Sabbahi. “EU election observer missions do not legitimise elections or validate their results,” said David, refusing to comment on the poll which comes after a brutal crackdown on Morsi supporters. Amnesty International says more than 1,400 people have been killed in the crackdown. More than 15,000 have been arrested, with hundreds sentenced to death or prison terms in speedy mass trials.

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