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Death toll climbs as protests escalate in Egypt

From Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, For CNN
February 4, 2012 -- Updated 1052 GMT (1852 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New: Death toll climbs to nine in Egyptian clashes, the Health Ministry says
  • Military calls peaceful protests "a right to all people"
  • Protesters demand an end to military rule
  • They are angered by a violent riot at soccer match this week

Were you there? Send your stories, video to CNN iReport.
Lea este artículo en español. (Read this article in Spanish.)

Cairo (CNN) -- Nine people died over two days in clashes between Egyptian police and protesters amid reports of inadequate security at a soccer match that devolved into a riot in which 79 fans were killed, officials said Friday.

Six deaths occurred in Suez and three in Cairo, the Health Ministry reported. Among the fatalities was an 18-year-old, the ministry said.

More than 2,500 people were injured near the Interior Ministry in Cairo over two days, officials said.

Thousands of protesters gathered outside the ministry, prompting riot police to deploy tear gas for fear the men -- some of them masked -- would storm the building.

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"The people demand the downfall of the field marshal," chanted the protesters, who waved flags from the popular soccer team Al-Ahly, which was playing in the game Wednesday in Port Said after which the riot broke out.

Gen. Marwan Mustapha, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said protesters who had taken over a government taxation building were throwing Molotov cocktails from the roof. Nearly 200 police officers were injured, several by birdshot pellets, Mustapha said.

Clashes were reported Friday in Suez, where at least 18 people were injured, Deputy Health Minister Hisham Shiha said.

In the Sumoha neighborhood of Alexandria, thousands of protesters clashed with police, throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks and setting tires afire, said Tamer Mohamed, an activist who witnessed events there. Police fired tear gas into the crowds and warning shots into the air, he said.

Two fires occurred Friday in or near Cairo. In one, the taxation building -- in the center of where demonstrations were going on -- was ablaze. Mahmoud el-Azali, a witness and reporter for Nile TV, said a band of people broke into the building about 9:30 p.m. and set the top floor afire. Though no one was hurt, attempts to put out the massive blaze proved fruitless, he said.

Another fire broke out 20 kilometers from Cairo, at the Al Marg police station, said Usama Emam, a national security investigator. Twelve prisoners escaped, he said. The causes of the fires were not immediately clear.

Among the people arrested in Cairo were 12 Syrians, said Maj. Karim El-Fouli with the Egyptian police. He said the Syrians were accused of setting the first floor of the Syrian Embassy afire.

Outside the police station, about 100 other Syrians demanded their countrymen's release. "Mubarak gone! Gone! Assad Next! Next!" they chanted, referring to the toppled Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad.

"They are here because of the massacre in Homs today," said Syrian activist Sumer Badr, in Cairo, referring to violence between Syrian government forces and demonstrators.

Map of major Egyptian cities  Map of major Egyptian cities
Map of major Egyptian citiesMap of major Egyptian cities

The Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said in a statement posted on Facebook that the country "is passing in a sensitive and difficult time that is considered the most dangerous and important in Egypt's history."

The statement continued, "The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has always reiterated to the military forces that peaceful protests are a right to all people to state their demands." It called on "all national and political factions of this nation to remain alert and responsible and to effectively intervene to ensure stability again across Egypt."

On Thursday, two people died in Suez and a military officer was accidentally killed by a vehicle driven by security forces in Cairo, officials said.

The latest demonstrations come amid a period of mourning for those who died at the match Wednesday in the Mediterranean city of Port Said. 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."

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

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."

The soccer violence reignited demands for Egypt's military-led government to make reforms and improve security.

Egypt's fledgling parliament erupted in anger over the national tragedy Thursday, 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.

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.

The governor and the chief of security, along with the head of the Port Said football federation, the stadium manager and the riot police chief, have all been banned from travel until the investigation is completed.

Police have charged 52 people with "premeditated murder, thuggery, destruction of public property and beatings causing fatal injuries."

CNN's Tracy Doueiry contributed to this story.

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