Anger flares in Egypt after 79 die in soccer riot

Egyptian protesters evacuate a  woman suffering from tear gas inhalation in Cairo.

Story highlights

  • 2 dead, 25 injured in Suez violence, police say
  • Al-Ahly official says "hidden hands" were behind the violence at Port Said
  • Egypt's parliament erupts in anger as the nation observes three days of mourning
  • At least 47 people were arrested after the clashes, officials said

Egyptians, angry at reports of inadequate security at a soccer match where 79 people died Wednesday in a riot, clashed with police, leaving two dead in the city of Suez and at least 900 injured in Cairo, officials said Friday. The injuries occurred near the Interior Ministry headquarters in Cairo, said Dr. Adel Adawi, a health ministry spokesman.

Egypt's deputy health minister, Dr. Hisham Shiha, said on Egyptian TV that many of the casualties resulted from asphyxiation or bone fractures.

The two fatalities in Suez died of gunshot wounds, said the general manager of Suez General Hospital. Earlier, hundreds of protesters attacked the security forces' headquarters in the city with rocks and Molotov cocktails; security forces fired tear gas and warning shots into the air, said Suez Police Maj. Mahmoud Mustapha.

About 25 protesters were injured in Suez, he said.

Thursday's violence occurred as the country began three days of mourning for those who died Wednesday in the Mediterranean city of Port Said. The soccer violence reignited demands for Egypt's military-led government to make reforms and improve security. An emergency parliamentary session was called.

In Port Said, dried blood caked seats in the stadium where fans of the hometown Al-Masry club stormed the field after a 3-1 win over Cairo's Al-Ahly club. Rival fans battled with rocks and chairs, and witnesses said many of the Al-Masry fans carried knives and sticks.

Many suffocated in the crush of bodies that formed as fans attempting to flee the stadium found their escape blocked by a locked steel gate, survivors said.

In the aftermath, horrified fans questioned why police had not stopped the Al-Masry fans from rushing the visitors' stands, why exits were barred and how fans were able to take weapons into the stadium.

"We believe this is something that has been well-organized," said Khaled Mortagy, a member of Al-Ahly's governing board. "I'm sure there are some hidden hands behind this, but we cannot really see, or we cannot really confirm, who is behind all that."

Mortagy said he believes the incident had nothing to do with sports. Members of the club are shaken by what occurred.

At least 47 people were arrested after the clashes, said Gen. Marwan Mustapha, a spokesman for Egypt's Interior Ministry. Mortagy said lawyers for Al-Ahly want to sit in on questioning by prosecutors as an investigation goes forward.

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"It's a big catastrophe for Egyptian sports ... a black day for football," he said.

The incident at Port Said, at the mouth of the Suez Canal, ranks among the world's worst sports disasters. It prompted officials to suspend indefinitely Egypt's football premier league.

See high-res images of the riots

Mamdouh Eid, executive manager of the Al-Ahly fans committee, said authorities contributed to the escalation of the violence.

"The police stood there watching, and the ambulances arrived late. I carried several dead fans in my arms," he said.

But Gen. Ismail Osman, a member of Egypt's military council, told Mehwar TV on Thursday that the military and police were not responsible for what happened.

And Mustapha said fans stoked tensions during the entire match.

"There were organized groups in the crowds that purposely provoked the police all through the match and escalated the violence and stormed onto the field after the final whistle," he said. "Our policemen tried to contain them but not engage."

Egypt's fledgling parliament erupted in anger over the national tragedy, with the debate growing so heated that the body's speaker ordered a live broadcast of the session cut off. The order was retracted after lawmakers objected.

Witnesses: Police stood idle

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A committee will investigate the circumstances behind the riot. Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri suspended Port Said's security chief and the head of police investigation. The two men will face an inquiry. Ganzouri also accepted the resignation of Port Said's governor.

A deputy of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party demanded the resignation of the interior minister, holding him responsible for the loss of life.

It was unclear whether the riots were ignited by intense sporting rivalry or political strife. Egyptians just marked the anniversary of the revolution that toppled the longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak.

In Cairo, somber protesters in Tahrir Square -- many dressed in popular Al-Ahly club attire -- decried Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, even though Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi had tried to allay their fears.

"The general prosecutor has started to investigate this saddening incident that hit all the Egyptian people with sorrow and regret," Tantawi told Nile TV. "We will know what the reason is and who caused the catastrophe that happened in Port Said."

Tantawi said the incident is not "something that will let Egypt fall."

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