An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced the former dictator, Hosni Mubarak, to life term for his complicity in the killing of protesters, following a 10-month trial that was riven with loopholes and marred by controversy.

Judge Ahmed Rifat said the prosecution could not muster any evidence to establish that Mr. Mubarak had directly ordered the killings of the protesters, 850 of whom died during the 18-day uprising last year.

Nevertheless, the judge held him responsible for the deaths because of his failure to intervene to stop the killings. Habib el-Adly, Interior Minister of the day under the deposed strongman, was also slapped with life sentence for the same reason.

As the verdict was announced, there was a spontaneous eruption of joy among the several families of the deceased who had assembled outside the courtroom.

But the mood swiftly darkened as news filtered out that Mr. Mubarak's two sons, Alaa and Gamal, had been acquitted of major corruption charges. They would now stand trial on charges of manipulating the stock market that were levelled last week.

Tempers flew when the judge announced the acquittal of the six top police officers, who were in charge, when the killings took place.

Feeding the fury was the perception that Mr. Mubarak might be freed or awarded a lighter sentence by an appeals court.

His lawyers reinforced the view that their client was likely to be acquitted following an appeal. AFP quoted Yasser Bahr, a senior member of Mr. Mubarak's team as saying: “We will appeal. The ruling is full of legal flaws from every angle.”

Crowds pour into Tahrir Square

By afternoon, angry crowds, rejecting the verdict, poured into Cairo's Tahrir Square — ground zero of the uprising. A similar outpouring was reported from Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city, and Suez.

Fears of a counter-revolution triggered by Saturday's verdict are likely to brighten the chances of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy, whose bid for the presidency is being challenged by the Mubarak-era Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq, in a June 16-17 runoff.

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