Egypt erupts in anger after football violence kills 74

Last Updated: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 07:55

Cairo: Egypt`s worst soccer violence claimed at least 74 lives in the northern city of Port Said, plunging the nation into rage and prompting protests and clashes with police in the capital.

The unprecedented violence occurred last evening following a soccer match between top-tier clubs al-Masry and al-Ahly as fans invaded the ground after Port Said club al- Masry won 3-1.

The fans chased the players and fans of the al-Ahly club and engaged in pitched battles following the match leaving at least 74 dead and 250 injured.

Three days of national mourning was declared in Egypt and all premier-league matches were postponed indefinitely, even as a number of heads rolled following the shocking incident. In an emergency parliamentary session, Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri dissolved the Egyptian Soccer Federation`s board and referred its members for questioning by prosecutors.

El-Ganzouri also says the governor of Port Said province and the area`s police chief have resigned.

But the nation erupted in anger over the incident as witnesses said that riot police stood by as supporters of home team went berserk.

Clashes erupted in the Egyptian capital between police and protesters, who attempted to march on to the Interior Ministry, furious at the lack of police intervention in the violence.

Hundreds of Egyptians, including soccer fans, marched from the Al-Ahly club headquarters towards the interior ministry via Tahrir Square, chanting slogans like: "This was not a sports accident, this was a military massacre!"

As protesters in Cairo chanted, "Down with military rule," the secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood too blamed the military for the deaths.

Angry members of parliament denounced the lack of security. "Egypt went through a difficult night on Thursday. Egypt spent its night crying (over) its dead," speaker Saad Katatni said in the emergency session`s opening remarks.

Earlier, Essam el-Erian, a politician from the Muslim Brotherhood`s Freedom and Justice party, said the military and police were complicit in the violence, accusing them of trying to show that emergency regulations giving security forces wide-ranging powers must be maintained.

"This tragedy is a result of intentional reluctance by the military and the police," he said.

Al-Ahly`s most ardent supporters, the Ultras, were active in the revolt that overthrew Mubarak.

BBC said Egyptian fans are notoriously violent, particularly supporters of al-Ahly known as the Ultras.

They have been heavily implicated in confronting the police during recent political protests. There is speculation that the security forces may have had an interest in taking on al-Ahly supporters.

World football`s governing body FIFA called on Egyptian authorities to deliver a full report on the violence.

Mohamed Ibrahim, Egypt`s interior minister, said many of the victims had died in a crush of people at the stadium.

The Interior Ministry blamed fans for provoking violence. It said in a statement that 74 people died, including one police officer, and 248 were injured, 14 of them police. It 47 people have been arrested for links to the violence.

Witnesses quoted by the media said the atmosphere had been tense throughout the match - since an al-Ahly fan raised a banner insulting supporters of the home team.

As the match ended, their fans flooded onto the pitch attacking al-Ahly players and fans.

A committee will investigate the circumstances surrounding the fighting, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said in a statement.

Angry crowds closed off Cairo`s Tahrir Square and state TV today, ahead of protests against the way police handled the riots. The demonstrators used metal barriers and vehicles to close the square.

"People are angry at the regime more than anything else... People are really angry, you could see the rage in their eyes," al-Ahly supporter Mohammed Abdel Hamid said. Hundreds gathered at Cairo`s main railway station to receive the injured and the first bodies arriving from Port Said, with some chanting slogans against military rule.

"Everyone was beating us. They were beating us from inside and outside, with fireworks, stones, metal bars, and some had knives, I swear," one fan told a private TV station.

Army units were deployed in Port Said and joined police patrols around morgues and hospitals, but most streets had no police presence.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of Egypt`s ruling army council, went to an airbase near Cairo to meet al-Ahly players who were flown back from Port Said on a military aircraft.

"This will not bring Egypt down... These incidents happen anywhere in the world. We will not let those behind it go," he said.

It is the biggest disaster in Egypt`s football history, the deputy health minister Hesham Sheiha said.

"This is unfortunate and deeply saddening," Sheiha told state television, adding that many people died in a stampede as people tried to leave the stadium.

The deadly violence came as Egypt is going through a sensitive phase of transition to democracy with frequent protests witnessed against the ruling military.

PTI



First Published: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 07:55

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