World Bulletin/News Desk
An Egyptian court has recommended the death sentence for the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and 682 supporters, and handed down a final capital punishment ruling for 37 others, judicial sources said.
Seeking the death penalty for Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood's general guide, is certain to raise tension in Egypt which has been gripped by turmoil since the army removed the Brotherhood from power last year.
The 37 death sentences were part of a final judgement on 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters who were sentenced to death last month. The remaining defendants were sentenced to life in jail.
Death sentence recommendations in the case involving Badie will be passed on to Egypt's Mufti, the highest religious authority. His opinion is not legally binding and can be ignored by the court.
The biggest trials in Egypt's modern history have reinforced fears among human rights groups that the military-backed government and anti-Islamist judges are bent on crushing dissent.
"The decisions are possibly the largest possible death sentences in recent world history. While they're exceptional in scale, they're certainly not exceptional in kind," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director for Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch.
"It seems that these sentences are aimed at striking fear and terror into the hearts of those who oppose the interim government including the interim government."
The rulings can be appealed. Many defendants are on the run.
Policemen used teargas on Monday to disperse students at Al-Azhar University in eastern Cairo protesting against a decision by a court in the Upper Egyptian province of Minya to sentence 37 supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi to death.
Eyewitnesses said policemen deployed on the university campus fired teargas on the students as soon as they gathered for a march near the Faculty of Agriculture on the university's campus.
Confrontations then erupted between the protesting students and policemen on the campus.
Eyewitnesses said the students pelted policemen with stones and blocked the nearby Mustafa al-Nahas Street, disrupting traffic in the area.
Elsewhere, students also protested at Minya University in central Egypt against the rulings, before security forces used teargas to disperse the crowd, eyewitnesses said.
The residents of Dalga village in southern Minya also staged a march against the verdicts, eyewitnesses said.
The court set June 21 to issue its verdicts against the 683 defendants.
Egypt's army-backed authorities have launched a massive crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood since elected president Mohamed Morsi's ouster by the army last July.
In the eight months since, thousands of the groups' members and sympathizers have been arrested.
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