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Middle East
Deadly clashes in Egypt over football riots
Nine killed and more than 2,500 wounded in clashes over authorities' failure to prevent Port Said football violence.
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2012 08:36

At least nine people have been killed in clashes in Egypt, as protesters fought with security forces over their alleged failure to prevent deadly football riots on Wednesday.

Six people died in the eastern port city of Suez, as police used live rounds to hold back crowds on Friday.

Three protesters were also killed in the capital, Cairo, as crowds broke down walls and barbed wire barriers to reach the heavily guarded interior ministry. Police fired birdshot and salvos of tear gas. One soldier was killed when a riot police truck backed into him, the government said.

According to the state health ministry, more than 2,500 people were wounded in the Cairo clashes.

Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton, reporting from Cairo, said the ongoing nationwide protests are "another symptom of the security vacuum going on across the country".

In southern Egypt, 11 people were injured in protests outside the security directorate and police station in Minya governorate.

In Alexandria, Egypt's coastal second city, tear gas and fireworks were traded between security forces and protesters into the night outside the main security directorate.

In al-Marg, armed men attacked a police station and freed detainees after setting the station on fire, state-owned al-Ahram newspaper reported.

The crisis began when thousands of protesters took to the streets on Thursday to demand retribution for the deaths of at least 74 people who died a day earlier during a stampede at a premier league football match in the city of Port Said.

'Breakdown in security'

Many anti-government activists and hardcore football fans, known as ultras, blame the country's military leadership for either conspiring to foment the Port Said violence or negligently allowing it to occur.

Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo, said that during Friday prayers held in Tahrir Square, the leading cleric was questioning where the security forces were when the bloodshed happened.

She went on to say that since prayers ended the confrontations in front of the ministry of interior were continuing.

"The people wanted answers as to how exactly the football disaster happened," she said. "The question is, what exactly was the responsibility of the governor and the head of the police force there?"

"Furthermore, why did the police force, as seen on cameras, remain on the sidelines and not engage the crowds?"

"More importantly, people are directing their anger at the ruling military council, saying it is not just about the failure of the police force, but a whole failure of leadership."

Fans of the home side, Al Masry, stormed the pitch after a 3-1 victory against visiting favourites Al Ahly. Witnesses said security forces had allowed men into the stadium carrying knives and sticks. Though the majority of deaths reportedly came from those crushed or forced to fall off of terraces during the stampede, some were reportedly stabbed to death.

The stampede capped a week of violence in which several armed robberies and kidnappings were reported across Egypt, leading some to suspect the government had arranged the escalating chaos in an attempt to convince citizens of the need to maintain harsh emergency laws.

On Friday, gunmen intercepted a tourist minivan and snatched two female US tourists at gunpoint, along with their Egyptian tour guide near St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai, the region's security chief said.

Our correspondent said they were taken "by a Bedouin tribe that has been protesting over the past couple of months ... and is certainly part of larger breakdown in security ... an explosion in incidents from kidnappings to armed robberies".

Spreading chaos 

In Tahrir Square on Thursday some demonstrators tried to move big concrete blocks erected around the interior ministry since November, when clashes between the police and protesters then left more than 40 people dead.

In scenes reminiscent of those clashes, protesters set tyres on fire, sending black smoke in the air. Egyptian state TV said 100 people had passed out from the tear gas.

Egypt declared three days of mourning for more than 70 people who died in Wednesday's football riots [Reuters]

The interior ministry said in a statement that the protesters had cut the barbed wire, and crossed over the concrete blocks to reach the roads leading to the headquarters.

It urged the protesters "to listen to the sound of wisdom ... at these critical moments" to prevent the spread of chaos.

Earlier in the day, hundreds joined funeral processions in the streets of Port Said.

A security official said Masry fans had chased Ahly players and cornered their supporters on the field and around the stadium, throwing stones and bottles at them.

Al-Ahly players were trapped in the changing room along with supporters and riot police were sent in to drive back the rival crowds of fans.

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

At least 52 people have been arrested and authorities said the search for suspects linked to the violence was continuing.

Revenge attacks

A network of rabid football fans known as Ultras pledged vengeance, accusing the police of intentionally letting rivals attack them because they have been at the forefront of protests over the past year, first against Hosni Mubarak, the deposed president, and now the military.

Many of the fans who were among the protesters said they would storm the ministry.


Other significant incidents of football-related deaths

Egypt declared three days of mourning for those killed in the football riots and angry members of parliament denounced the lack of security at the match during an emergency session on Thursday.

Addressing parliament, Kamal Ganzouri, the military-appointed prime minister, said Port Said's senior security chiefs and the governor had been suspended.

He also said the Egyptian football federation's board had been removed, but he still disappointed those seeking tougher steps, including dismissal of the interior minister.

"Egypt went through a difficult night yesterday. Egypt spent its night crying [over] its dead," Saad Katatni, the parliament speaker, said in the session's opening remarks.

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.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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