Hundreds of Egyptians attacked a courtroom in Cairo, scuffled with security guards, and blocked a major highway for hours after the court ordered the release of 10 policemen charged with killing protesters during the country's uprising.
Monday's unrest added to tensions already running high in Egypt over the ruling military council's failure to hold accountable security forces involved in killing protesters during the uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak. Nearly five months later, only one policeman has been convicted in the deaths of more than 846 people killed in a government crackdown on protesters. He was tried in absentia.
During court proceedings on Monday, guards had to intervene to separate relatives of the victims and families of the defendants even before the decision was read. In his initial statement, the judge seemed to suggest he would impose harsh sentences, saying that "the blood of those killed will not be spilled in vain," according to the Egyptian news agency MENA.
However, he then ordered the release of the defendants, setting off a riot. The victims' families scuffled with the guards and tried to rush toward the defendants who were whisked out of the courtroom. A number of family members of the slain protesters tried to storm the judge's office in the courthouse, but were blocked by soldiers guarding the building.
Afterward, Egypt's Prosecutor-General Mahmoud Abdel-Meguid ordered the court's decision overturned in an attempt to defuse anger. But a lawyer for the victims' families said the move was "illegal" because the prosecutor general has no authority over the court.
"They are trying to deceive the people to pacify them," said the lawyer Amin Ramez. "The policemen are now at army headquarters seeking protection. If people saw them, they would tear them apart," Ramez added.
Ali el-Ganadi, a father of one of the victims, said he received a promise from the prosecutor-general to enforce the annulment of the court's order and bring the officers back to jail.
Relatives of slain protesters, who were involved in the unrest, blocked traffic for at least six hours on the highway from Cairo to the city of Suez, leaving hundreds of cars lined up. The court case involved protesters killed in Suez.