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Egypt charges 75, including cops, in connection with fatal soccer riot

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CAIRO Egypt's top prosecutor on Thursday charged 75 people in connection with a deadly soccer riot last month in which authorities said fans were thrown to their death off the stadium walls and others killed by explosives as they tried to flee.

Scores of fans face murder charges, and nine police officers were accused of complicity in murder in the Feb. 1 riot that left at least 74 people dead. It was the world's worst soccer-related disaster in 15 years.

The riot began in the Mediterranean city of Port Said minutes after the final whistle in a league game between Cairo club al-Ahly and al-Masry of Port Said.

The home team won 3-1, but its fans set upon the rival supporters in a killing frenzy that witnesses said lasted 30 minutes. Many witnesses claimed that policemen at the venue did nothing to stop the bloodshed.

The riot shocked soccer-crazy Egypt, deepening the sense of uncertainty felt by many as their nation continues to be roiled by unrest a year after the ouster of longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.

That senior police officers were charged in connection with the tragedy would lend credence to persistent claims that the nation's much-hated police were deliberately turning a blind eye to the wave of violent crime gripping Egypt over the past year.

Police have yet to fully retake the streets after they melted away in yet-not-fully-explained circumstances on the fourth day of the 18-day popular uprising that toppled Mr. Mubarak.

An end to police brutality was among the main root causes of the uprising, and many rights activists believe the police's apparent reluctance to restore security is payback for their humiliating defeat in the face of millions of unarmed protesters.

A statement issued by the office of the nation's prosecutor general said nine police officers, including six major generals and a colonel, participated in the Port Said riot by way of "assistance" to al-Masry fans.

They said the officers, along with several al-Masry officials, knew in advance that the home fans planned to attack al-Ahly supporters.

They, said the statement, allowed al-Masry fans to exceed by 3,000 the maximum number authorized to attend the game and did not search any of them for weapons before they were allowed inside the ground. Many of the charged fans were criminals known to the local police, it said.

It said the police at the match's venue did nothing to stop al-Masry fans from attacking their rivals.

"Those from the police among the defendants failed to take any measure ... to maintain security, protect lives and property," it said, in what is probably the strongest official condemnation since Mr. Mubarak's ouster of the police's attitude toward the rise of crime in Egypt.

The nine police officers included Maj. Gen. Issam Samak, who was Port Said's chief of security at the time of the riot. Gen. Samak has already been suspended.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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