3 Die In Egypt Clashes Over Deadly Soccer Riot

Published February 3, 2012 3:54PM (EST)

CAIRO (AP) — Police in Cairo fired salvos of tear gas and birdshot Friday at rock-throwing protesters as popular anger over a deadly soccer riot spilled over into a second day of street violence that left three people dead and more than 1,500 injured, doctors and health officials said.

The protesters blame the police for failing to prevent the melee after a soccer match in the Mediterranean city of Port Said on Wednesday killed 74 people. The violence — the soccer world's worst in 15 years — has fueled anger at Egypt's ruling military generals and the already widely distrusted police force.

Demonstrators in Cairo, the city of Suez and several Nile Delta cities on Friday turned their anger on the military, calling for it to surrender power because of what they say is the ruling generals' mismanagement of the country's transition to democracy.

In the capital, protesters in helmets and gas masks hurled stones at riot police firing tear gas outside the Interior Ministry, which controls the police. The demonstrators say they don't want to storm the ministry, but to hold a sit-in in front of it to protest the soccer deaths.

"I came down because what happened in Port Said was a political plan from the military to say it's either them or chaos," said 19-year-old Islam Muharram.

Many protesters have suggested the authorities either instigated the Port Said violence or intentionally allowed it to happen to retaliate for the key role soccer fans known as Ultras had in clashes with security forces during the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

The Cairo violence began late Thursday and escalated overnight, with protesters pushing through the barricades erected around the fortress-like ministry 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.

Ambulances and volunteers on motorcycles ferried the injured, most of them suffering respiratory problems from the tear gas, to field hospitals set up nearby on Tahrir Square.

Friday afternoon, thousands of people rallied on the square itself, demanding early presidential elections and calling on the country's military rulers to speed up the transfer of power to a civilian authority. Meanwhile, some 1,500 protesters marched to the Defense Ministry, chanting "the people want to execute the marshal," referring to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council ruling Egypt.

The death toll from Friday's violence stood at three.

One man was killed in Cairo after being hit by birdshot at close range, a volunteer doctor said on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals by the authorities. He said four protesters have lost an eye from birdshot, and that his field hospital close to Tahrir Square was overwhelmed with the wounded overnight.

Two protesters also were killed in Suez by police who opened fire, said health official Mohammed Lasheen.

About 3,000 people demonstrated in front of the Suez police headquarters, prompting police to fire tear gas and live ammunition, witnesses said. A third protester in Suez was in critical condition with a wound to the neck.

The chief of security in Suez denied the deaths there were from police gunfire.

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.

Many in the public and in the newly elected parliament — which called an emergency session Thursday to discuss the violence — 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 violence in Port Said began after home team Al-Masry pulled off a 3-1 upset win over Cairo's Al-Ahly, Egypt's most powerful club. Al-Masry fans stormed the field, rushing past lines of police to attack Al-Ahly fans.

Survivors described a nightmarish scene in the stadium. Police stood by doing nothing, they said, as Al-Masry fans attacked Al-Ahly supporters, 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.

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------