Soccer Riot: Violence Flares in Egypt

One man died just feet away from the Interior Ministry, which has become a target for demonstrators furious that the police failed to prevent a soccer riot that killed 74 people in the Mediterranean city of Port Said on Wednesday. It was the world’s worst soccer violence in 15 years.

Protesters angry over the deadly riot turned their rallies in Cairo and the city of Suez into a call for Egypt’s ruling military council, led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, to surrender power because of what they say is the military’s mismanagement of the country’s transition to democracy. More rallies were planned on Friday.

A volunteer doctor said the man in Cairo died of wounds from birdshot fired at close range during clashes at dawn Friday. The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals by the authorities, said his field hospital close to Cairo’s Tahrir Square was overwhelmed with injuries overnight.

Earlier Friday, two protesters died by police gunfire in clashes with security forces in Suez, said health official Mohammed Lasheen. About 3 000 people had demonstrated in front of the city’s police headquarters and police fired tear gas and live ammunition, witnesses said. A third protester in Suez was in critical condition because of a wound to the neck. Suez city security chief denied the deaths there were from police gunfire.

In Cairo, protests spiraled into violent clashes between the protesters and police late Thursday as demonstrators charged toward the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police. Thousands threw rocks, and police responded with tear gas and birdshot.

The clashes intensified overnight, with protesters pushing through the barricades erected around the fortress-like building and bringing down a wall of concrete blocks erected outside the ministry two months ago, after similar violence left more than 40 protesters dead.

Critical moments

The Interior Ministry urged the protesters in a statement “to listen to the sound of wisdom … at these critical moments” and prevent the spread of chaos.

Wednesday’s deaths of 74 people in a post-match stadium riot in Port Said fuelled anger at Egypt’s ruling military generals and the already widely distrusted police force. The police had become notorious as the key tool of the oppressive regime of former president Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in Egypt’s popular uprising last February.

Many in the public and in the newly elected parliament blamed the new leadership for letting the soccer riot happen — whether due to a lack of control by the security forces, or as some allege, intentionally.

The soccer violence began after home team Al-Masry pulled out a surprise 3-1 victory over Cairo-based Al-Ahly, Egypt’s most powerful club. Al-Masry fans stormed the field, rushing past lines of police to attack Al-Ahly’s fans.

Survivors described a nightmarish scene in the Port Said stadium. Police stood by doing nothing, they said, as fans of the winning home team, Al-Masry, attacked supporters of the top Cairo club, Al-Ahly, stabbing them and throwing them off bleachers. The parliament later accused the interior minister of “negligence.”

Youssef, an 18-year old Al-Ahly supporter who was being treated Friday by the field doctor in Cairo for birdshot splashed on his back and arms, said he had been throwing rocks at the police when he was injured.

“What can I do? I am here to get justice for my beloved brothers who died. I will either get it or I’d rather die like them,” said Youssef, who would not give his second name because he feared for his life.

Mohammed Gamal, a 32-year old unemployed protester who was outside the ministry overnight, said the police and the military have failed for a year to protect Egyptians or to realize any of the goals for the revolution that forced Mubarak out, including better jobs and social justice.

“They are of no use. They have done nothing in a year. Only people died,” he said.- AP