x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Protesters in Port Said set security headquarters on fire

Fresh clashes break out in the Suez Canal city after thousands attend funerals for civilians killed in battles with police the day before.

People walk near government buildings set on fire during clashes in Port Said, Egypt, on Monday. EPA
People walk near government buildings set on fire during clashes in Port Said, Egypt, on Monday. EPA

port said, EGYPT // Thousands of Egyptians in Port Said rallied yesterday in a funeral procession for civilians killed during street battles with police, as the military deployed soldiers to secure the gathering.

Protesters hurled petrol bombs and stones at police officers who responded by firing tear gas. Demonstrators also set fire to two police cars as well as the headquarters of the security services.

On Sunday, three policemen and three civilians were killed as protesters and police clashed while military troops got caught in the middle trying to stop the violence, according to witnesses. Crowds gathered yesterday outside a city mosque for the funerals and performed prayers for the dead. They then began processions carrying the coffins one after another to the cemetery, chanting, "the martyr is the beloved of God" and waving the black-white-and-green flags of Port Said that have become a symbol of the city's revolt against the government.

Military police cars roamed the area and military armoured vehicles lined up streets leading to the cemetery.

"We want retribution," the gathering chanted. "It is now war between us and you, interior ministry." One protester raised a banner reading: "I came to die for freedom, Port Said."

Port Said, at the mouth of the Suez Canal, has been in turmoil since late January, when a Cairo court issued death sentences against 21 people, most residents of the city, for involvement in Egypt's deadliest football riot in February 2012. The verdicts sparked angry protests in the city, which turned into deadly clashes with police, leaving more than 40 dead, including two policemen.

Residents have been outraged by what they call excessive force by the police and by the central government's response - president Mohammed Morsi called the protesters "thugs" and has generally backed the security forces. The police said most of the protester deaths came during an attempt to storm a prison.

Tensions have risen further ahead of a court hearing planned for Saturday that is expected to confirm the death sentences to issue new verdicts for police officers and other Port Said defendants also charged in connection with the football tragedy.

For nearly three weeks, the city has seen protests, strikes and work stoppages, including the blocking of a major port.

The fighting on Sunday prompted the military to intervene to break up the clashes, the first such intervention by the army since the military was deployed in Port Said in late January when tension between protesters and police first erupted.

Witnesses described a tense scene between the police and the military during the clashes. Army officers tried but failed to negotiate an end to the fighting. At one point, the military got out of the way as protesters clashed with the police, but when soldiers got hit by much of the tear gas and the projectiles flying through the air, the troops fired in the air in the direction of the police forces to break up the street fights.

At least one senior military officer was injured in the fighting. Military spokesman Ahmed Mohammed Ali said Colonel Sherif El Arayishi was shot in his right leg with live ammunition and was receiving treatment in Cairo.

Some 420 people have beeninjured since the protests started on Sunday, about 60 from shotgun wounds and live bullets, said Sayed Al Masry, head of Port Said's ambulance service.

In a bid to defuse the public anger, the interior ministry said in a statement that will transfer back those jailed in the football violence trial to the local prison, after Saturday's verdict. It blamed the escalation in violence on "opportunist elements" who seek to use violence to its advantage. It didn't elaborate.


* With additional reports from Agence France-Presse and Reuters