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Mon 2 Feb 2015 03:29 PM

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Egypt court sentences 183 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death

Men are convicted of playing a role in the killings of 16 policemen in the town of Kardasa in August 2013

Egypt court sentences 183 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death
Muslim Brotherhood supporters clash with supporters of the Egyptian government. (AFP/Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)

An Egyptian court sentenced 183 supporters of the
outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to death on Monday on charges of killing police
officers, part of a sustained crackdown by authorities on Islamists.

The men were convicted of playing a role in the
killings of 16 policemen in the town of Kardasa in August, 2013 during the
upheaval that followed the army's ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi.
Thirty-four were sentenced in absentia.

Egypt has mounted one of the biggest crackdowns in
its modern history on the Brotherhood since the political demise of Mursi, the
country's first democratically-elected president.

Thousands of Brotherhood supporters have been
arrested and put on mass trials in a campaign which human rights groups say
shows the government is systematically repressing opponents.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as army chief
toppled Mursi, describes the Brotherhood as a major security threat.

The movement says it is committed to peaceful

The death sentences followed one of the bloodiest
attacks on Egyptian security forces in years. ISIL's Egypt wing claimed
responsibility for a series of coordinated operations that killed at least 27
people last week.

Sisi blamed the Brotherhood for the violence and
told Egyptians in a televised address that the war against militancy will be a
long, tough one.

Egyptian authorities make no distinction between
the Brotherhood, ISIL and al Qaeda, arguing that they have a shared ideology
and are equally dangerous.

Security forces killed hundreds of Brotherhood
supporters and arrested thousands of others after Mursi's ouster.

After the death sentences were read out on Monday,
Brotherhood supporters held in metal cages shouted profanities at policemen. A
defence lawyer looked at the Islamists and said "You have God."

The Egyptian government's human rights record has
come under closer scrutiny since woman activist Shaimaa Sabbagh was shot dead
during a Cairo protest on January 24, a day before the anniversary of the 2011
uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

The Interior Ministry promised an investigation.

Separately, an Egyptian police officer has been
detained on suspicion of killing a suspected member of the Brotherhood in
hospital, the Interior Ministry has said.

The suspect was being treated in custody for wounds
suffered while he was allegedly planting explosives. The ministry said that the
man had provoked the policeman by insulting him. "Then the policeman lost
control of his feelings," it said.