New violence fear after court acquits former ministers

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Activists fear Egypt is on the brink of more violence after a court cleared three former ministers of criminal charges just days before nationwide mass rallies planned for Friday.

The ministers, who all served under the deposed president, Hosni Mubarak, had been charged with wasting millions of dollars in public funds. But in the first court ruling to exonerate former serving politicians since the 25 January uprising, all three were acquitted.

The ruling came a day after hundreds of people attacked a Cairo courtroom when a judge ordered the release of 10 policemen accused of killing protesters during the protests which led to Mr Mubarak's ousting earlier this year.

In a bid to assuage the anger of relatives, Egypt's prosecutor-general later overturned that decision. But the violence has heightened tensions after a week in which Cairo experienced some of the worse street battles since the uprising began. Mostafa Hussein, a 30-year-old Egyptian blogger, said the recent clashes were "depressing". He added: "The relationship between the people and the military is now very bad."

Mr Mubarak is due to stand trial in August on charges of killing demonstrators. But the release of the 10 policeman on Monday means that nearly five months after Mr Mubarak's departure, only one officer has been convicted over the deaths of more than 800 civilians.

Activists calling for a demonstration on Friday are angry at the ruling military council's perceived sluggishness over pursuing those responsible for the killings.

Last month there were clashes outside a Cairo court after a judge postponed the trial of Habib al-Adly, the former interior minister, who stands accused of ordering security forces to use live rounds on protesters.

There have also been concerns about the army council's prolific use of the military court system to try thousands of civilians. "The military is making things worse," said Ramy al-Swissy, a co-founder of activist group the April 6 Youth Movement.