An Egyptian court was due to issue a verdict on Tuesday in the trial of 96 people accused of a bloodbath that claimed the lives of 20 Christians and one Muslim one year ago.
The verdict will be announced amid tight security at the criminal court of Sohag, near the southern city of Kosheh, where the killings took place on January 2 last year.
Since the trial opened in June, 89 of the defendants have appeared in court, while seven others are on the run. The 89 were granted leave during the Muslim and Christian holidays over the last few weeks.
The group are accused of crimes ranging from gang murder and arson to looting and sheep rustling.
Thirty-eight of the defendants, all of them Muslim, are accused of murder while 33 of the others are Coptic Christians.
The trouble which broke out in Kosheh on December 31, as the rest of the world was celebrating the turn of the millennium, was sparked by a financial quarrel between a Muslim and a Coptic merchant over a piece of cloth.
The violence also coincided with the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and the run-up to Coptic Christmas on January 7.
Three days later, 21 people were dead, 44 were hurt, and the unrest had spread to Dar el-Salam on the back of false rumors that Copts working at Kosheh water plant had poisoned the water supply to kill Muslims.
The same court sentenced 21 Muslims to jail terms of up to 10 years in September for the related violence in Dar el-Salam and cleared 18 others, all of them Muslim.
Christians -- who officially account for around six percent of Egypt's mainly Muslim population of 65 million -- form a majority in Kosheh and make up large numbers in other towns and villages in upper Egypt.
The Egyptian authorities have sought to deny there was any religious or political dimension to the killings, trying them in a regular court rather than state security court -- CAIRO (AFP)
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