(Adds detail on sentences, background)
CAIRO, May 22 (Reuters) - An Egyptian court sentenced five policemen on Tuesday to 10 years each in prison for their role in killing protesters in the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, the first such convictions against a force that was blamed for hundreds of deaths.
One of the driving forces behind demonstrations that have erupted since Mubarak was ousted in February last year has been anger that no officials or police have been held accountable for the deaths of more than 850 people during the uprising.
For many the failure to convict anyone indicates just how much of the old order is still in place and is still protecting its interests. The transition overseen by generals who took over from Mubarak has been punctuated by protests, violence and wrangling between the army and politicians.
The ruling was made in absentia, which allows the defendants to have a retrial. It comes one day before Egypt’s first free democratic presidential vote and may raise the stakes for other security officials accused of having a role in the killings.
Mubarak himself faces sentencing on June 2, accused of ordering the killing of protesters in Tahrir Square, a charge he denies.
Mohamed Darwish, one of the three judges in the Giza district court that convicted the five policemen, said two more were handed one-year suspended sentences and 10 others were acquitted.
A year ago, another Cairo court sentenced a police officer to death in absentia for his role in the deaths. But that ruling was overturned later. Another court in the Nile Delta town of Benha handed three policemen suspended one-year jail sentences.
The police force is widely reviled for the tough tactics it used to try to quell the protests against Mubarak’s three-decade rule that erupted on Jan. 25, 2011 and ended with the president announcing he would quit 18 days later.
Protesters and witnesses said police used live fire, rubber bullets and teargas. Streets were littered with spent cartridges. Senior officers on trial with Mubarak over the killings have denied ordering the use of live rounds. (Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Jon Hemming)