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Egypt courts convict 170 backers of ousted president in country's latest mass trials

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CAIRO - A pair of Egyptian courts on Sunday convicted 170 suspected supporters of toppled President Mohammed Morsi on charges related to violent attacks last year, the country's latest mass trials ahead of this month's presidential elections.

The convictions in the courts in Cairo and in the Nile Delta city of Kafr el-Sheikh are the latest in a series over recent months that saw hundreds of people prosecutors identified as Morsi supporters sentenced to death or imprisonment.

In some cases, the verdicts came after no more than two hearings, drawing criticism from human rights activists and foreign governments as Egypt's military-backed interim government continues its crackdown on Morsi supporters and his Muslim Brotherhood group.

The Kafr el-Sheikh court convicted 127 people of storming and torching a church, a police station and a sports stadium to avenge the killing of hundreds of Islamists when security forces ended two sit-in protests in Cairo by Morsi supporters in August, according to a statement by the office of Egypt's top prosecutor. They were sentenced to 10 years in prison each. Five minors, all 17 years old, each received a one-year suspended sentence in the same case, the statement said.

The second court in Cairo sentenced 37 people to 15 years in prison each for their part in an attempt to blow up a subway station in Cairo last year, in addition to charges of vandalism, illegal possession of explosives, arms and ammunition along with disrupting public and private transport, said the statement from the chief prosecutor's office.

A 16-year-old boy received a three-year prison sentence in the same case. The court also fined all the defendants 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($2,800) each.

To date, authorities have detained some 16,000 Brotherhood supporters, including Morsi and most of the group's top leaders, following the July 3 military overthrow of his government. Many of them are on trial on charges that vary between espionage, inciting murder to corruption.

In April, an Egyptian judge sentenced the Brotherhood's spiritual leader, Mohammd Badie, and 682 others to death, drawing worldwide rebuke. However, the trials have continued with many Egyptians appearing to approve of the heavy-handed measures as a way to end the turmoil roiling their country since its 2011 revolt against autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

On Sunday, a judge said he would announce a verdict June 7 in a case involving Badie and 47 other defendants charged with cutting off a major road north of Cairo as part of a wave of post-Morsi protests last summer.

Several Sunday's verdicts came one day after a homemade bomb exploded at an election rally for presidential candidate Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, wounding four people, including two police officers. El-Sissi, a retired field marshal, led the military when it ousted Morsi 10 months ago.

El-Sissi, the front-runner in the May 26-27 vote, was not at the rally in the Cairo district of Ezbet el-Nakhl when the bomb went off late Saturday. The bombing was the first reported attack on a campaign event for el-Sissi, who has yet to appear at any election rally.

He said in a recent television interview that two assassination plots against him had been uncovered, but he gave no details.

No one claimed immediately responsibility for the attack. Since July, Islamic militants have targeted senior government officials, security facilities and army and police personnel across much of the country.

El-Sissi's only rival in this month's vote is leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi. El-Sissi is expected to win comfortably on the back of the nationalist fervour gripping the country.

Meanwhile Sunday, Egypt's interim president, Adly Mansour, decreed that his successor will get a monthly salary of 21,000 Egyptian pounds ($2,950) and a similar sum in a monthly allowance for entertainment. Mansour's decree amends a 1987 law that put the president's monthly salary at 12,000 pounds ($1,680) and gave him a similar amount as an annual, not a monthly, allowance.

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