Thursday, June 21, 2018

Soccer violence erupts in protests

CAIRO — Police in several Egyptian cities Thursday night battled with thousands of die-hard soccer fans angry at the military-led government's failure to prevent dozens of deaths at a soccer riot in Port Said the previous night.

In Suez, two protesters were wounded by birdshot and two others by live ammunition, the Health Ministry said, while in Cairo more than 600 were injured by tear gas and stampeding crowds.

The fans, known as ultras, began their demonstration in the capital by directing their fury in part at the Port Said club's supporters, who attacked a visiting Cairo club, Al Ahly, on Wednesday night. But by the time their march reached the barbed-wire barriers protecting the Interior Ministry, the soccer rivalries were forgotten in a battle against their shared enemy — the police.

Rumors that the police had deliberately abetted the violence at the match Wednesday circulated through the crowd but were impossible to confirm. Protesters charged that the police had neglected to search fans for weapons, or had opened gates for the Port Said fans while closing them on the Cairo contingent or had turned out the lights to give the home fans cover.

About 70 people were killed in the melee Wednesday.

Many protesters said they believed that the Interior Ministry meant to retaliate against the Cairo soccer fans because of their leading role in several violent battles with the police at protests over the past three months. At nationally televised games, the ultras have also picked up the habit of chanting for the ouster of the military rulers who took over from President Hosni Mubarak, piercing the walls set up by the generals, who jealously guard their public image.

"The military is taking revenge on us," said Tarek Adel, 24.

Egypt's newly elected Parliament, called into an emergency session to address the crisis related to the riot, sent a fact-finding committee to Port Said to investigate the Interior Ministry's role in the violence, with orders to report back by next week.

Essam el-Erian, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood bloc that leads Parliament, presented the signatures of 120 lawmakers who demanded that charges be filed against the interior minister, and Parliament assigned a special panel to question him.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the leader of the ruling military council and the de facto chief executive, called for a three-day period of national mourning.

The bodies of 52 people killed in Port Said were taken to a Cairo morgue before they were released for burial by their families here, suggesting that most of the victims were on the side of the Cairo team.

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