x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Protesters blame conspiracy for football deaths as clashes rock Cairo

Police fire tear gas on protesters trying to reach the interior ministry, furious at the lack of police intervention in a football riot that killed 74 people in Port Said.

A female protester is evacuated by motorcycle as police use tear gas on protesters in Cairo after 74 football fans were killed in riots in Port Said on Wednesday night.
A female protester is evacuated by motorcycle as police use tear gas on protesters in Cairo after 74 football fans were killed in riots in Port Said on Wednesday night.

CAIRO // Clashes erupted in the Egyptian capital last night between protesters and police as the government scrambled to contain mounting anger over violence that killed 74 people after a football match in the country’s north.

Black-clad riot police fired tear gas at protesters trying to reach the interior ministry, furious at the lack of police intervention in Wednesday’s violence in Port Said.

Protesters injured in last night’s clashes were ferried away by motorbike, with medics saying about 20 people suffered from tear gas inhalation. Ambulances drove through Tahrir Square, centre of last year’s uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, and towards the site of the clashes.

Hundreds of Al Ahly fans, wearing team T-shirts and waving flags, were joined by activists and ordinary Egyptians on the march from the club headquarters towards the interior ministry via Tahrir Square.

“This was not a sports accident, this was a military massacre,” the crowds chanted, blaming the ruling military council that has led the country since Hosni Mubarak was ousted roughly one year ago.

In an emergency session yesterday of the newly elected People’s Assembly, the lower house of parliament, the prime minister Kamal El Ganzouri announced he had dissolved the Egyptian football association’s board and referred its members for questioning by prosecutors. He also said the governor of Port Said province and the area’s police chief had resigned.

Furious MPs demanded the sacking of the interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim, who sat solemnly in the assembly, listening to accusations of negligence. Al Masry fans invaded the pitch, throwing rocks, bottles and fireworks at Al Ahly supporters, causing chaos and panic as players and fans fled in all directions, witnesses said.

State television ran footage of riot police standing rigidly in rows as the pandemonium – which left more than 1,000 people injured – erupted around them. The interior minister has said most of the deaths were caused by the crush, but medics said some people were stabbed. The ruling military council announced three days of national mourning.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which controls 46 per cent of the seats in the People’s Assembly, said in a statement that what happened in Port Said was “more than fan enthusiasm or intolerance gone berserk”. It was “an integral part of a deliberate scheme to ignite strife, originally aiming to push Egypt into a downwards spiral of crises”.

The Brotherhood blamed the Port Said clashes on Mubarak supporters.

“The events in Port Said are planned and are a message from the remnants of the former regime,” said Essam Al Erian, a Freedom and Justice Party MP, on the party’s website.

“This tragedy is the result of negligence and the lack of army and police, and those running the country bear the responsibility.“There are those who deliberately want to sow chaos in the country and place obstacles in front of the peaceful transfer of power.”

“My cousin’s body has 12 stab wounds,” said Hassan Ezzat, 26, a swimming coach who joined a group of several dozens yesterday in front of the Al Ahly club headquarters yesterday. “His face is unrecognisable from being trampled … His blood must be avenged. The ones who are responsible must be judged. Otherwise, we will take revenge with our own hands.”

Within hours of the incident, political figures and parties started to lay the blame for the catastrophe – one of the deadliest incidents in football history – on a conspiracy of antirevolutionary elements and what some described as a criminally negligent security apparatus.

Victims were trampled to death, suffocated in narrow corridors with blocked exits and stabbed in fights that broke out in the moments after the match between Al Ahly, the popular Cairo club, and Al Masry, the home team, finished in Port Said, according to witnesses and footage broadcast repeatedly yesterday on state television. Al Ahly lost the match 3-1.

The clashes came as Egypt struggles with a wave of incidents related to poor security. Al Ahly’s most ardent supporters, the “ultras”, were active in the revolt that overthrew Mubarak.

Politicians, fans and players took to social media to express their fury over the clashes, which cap a year of political upheaval and unrest.

“There are dead people lying on the ground! There are dead people in the changing room,” the Al Ahly striker Emad Meteab told the team’s satellite channel. “I won’t play football any more until these people get justice,” Meteab said.

Egypt’s hated police, who recently came under fire for heavy-handed tactics, had been given instructions to deal carefully with protesters, sources said. State television said military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who took power when Mubarak was ousted last February 11, sent two military aircraft to fly out the players and the injured from Port Said late on Wednesday. He stressed that security in Egypt was “fine.”

Sepp Blatter, president of world football’s governing, Fifa, expressed his shock over a “black day for football”.

bhope@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press and Reuters