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Middle East
Anger in Egypt over deadly football riot
Parliament holds emergency session to discuss security failures after more than 70 people die amid clashes between fans.
Last Modified: 02 Feb 2012 19:15

Egypt has declared three days of mourning for the more than 70 people who died at a football stadium amid violent clashes between rival supporters in the northern city of Port Said.

Angry members of parliament denounced the lack of security at the match and gathered for an emergency session on Thursday, a day after violence erupted following an upset victory by home team al-Masry over Cairo's top club, al-Ahly.

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

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.

Activists scheduled rallies for Thursday outside the headquarters of the interior ministry in Cairo to protest against the inability of police to stop the bloodshed.

In Port Said, residents marched early on Thursday, denouncing the violence and saying it was a conspiracy by the military and police to cause chaos.

'War, not football'

The violence broke as soon as the referee blew the final whistle in Wednesday's match, which saw al-Masry beat al-Ahly 3-1.

Fans of the winning al-Masry team flooded the field seconds after the final whistle.


Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh discusses the Port Said riots

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

Thousands of supporters covered the field, as seen in a video posted online.

"This is unfortunate and deeply saddening. It is the biggest disaster in Egypt's soccer history," said Hesham Sheiha, deputy health minister. He said most of the injuries were caused by concussion and deep cuts.

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

"This is not football. This is a war and people are dying in front of us. There is no movement and no security and no
ambulances," al-Ahly player Abo Treika told the team's television channel.

"This is a horrible situation and today can never be forgotten."

Troops deployed

The ruling military council, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, deployed troops in Port Said after the stadium clashes, which left 1,000 people injured.

The health ministry said in a statement that one policeman was among the dead. At least two players suffered light injuries.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of SCAF, pledged to track down those behind the violence in a rare phone call to an Egyptian TV channel.

"These kind of events can happen anywhere in the world but we will not let those behind this get away," Tantawi said, speaking to a sports television channel owned by the al-Ahly club. He said victims would receive compensation after their cases were examined.

"We will get through this stage. Egypt will be stable. We have a roadmap to transfer power to elected civilians. If anyone is plotting instability in Egypt they will not succeed. Everyone will get what they deserve," he said, adding that securing the game was the responsibility of the police force.

History of clashes

Al-Masry's 3-1 win was a rare victory for the club over one of the giants of Egyptian football. The two teams have a long history of bad blood, and clashes have erupted in recent years between their fans.


Other significant incidents of football deaths

Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo, said al-Ahly fans were said to have been provoking al-Masry fans throughout the game with abusive language.

But our correspondent said the issue went beyond the pitch, with Egypt experiencing a "security vacuum" after the revolution which overthrew Mubarak.

"There were clearly riot police on that pitch, but they were seen either not getting involved or running in the other direction," she said.

"Some people say the police force perhaps has not been trained to deal with violence, except in the way they were trained during Mubarak, which was with sheer and brutal force. And now when they can't do that, they're unable to deal with violence."

The Egyptian premier league, which the games were part of, was suspended indefinitely.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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