Jailan Zayan, AFP
Last updated: 4 February, 2012

Deadly clashes as anger with Egypt military boils over

Protesters faced off with police in Cairo for a third day Saturday in deadly clashes sparked by anger at the failure of Egypt’s military rulers to prevent football-linked violence that left scores dead.

Thick clouds of smoke hung over the roads leading up to the interior ministry, where protesters hurled stones at officers as ambulances shuttled the wounded out of the area.

A number of protesters tried to intervene and stood between their comrades and police who had been firing regular rounds of tear gas and birdshot, ending the violence.

But confrontations erupted again by late afternoon in the centre of Cairo, metres (yards) from Tahrir Square, the epicentre of last year’s revolution, and government buildings.

As the sun set over the capital, calm returned to the streets surrounding the ministry, but the situation remained tense, AFP reporters said.

In the canal city of Suez, two people died from birdshot wounds sustained in clashes overnight, medics said.

The health ministry said 12 people have been killed in Cairo and Suez since the violence erupted Thursday in response to the failure of authorities to contain clashes at a football match in the northern city of Port Said that left 74 people dead.

The official MENA news agency, citing the ministry, said 2,532 people have been injured.

A Nile News television reporter was wounded in the eye by birdshot, said the state-owned channel. The interior ministry said 211 policemen were wounded, including a general who lost an eye, and 16 conscripts wounded by birdshot.

Marchers took to the streets nationwide Friday to demand Egypt’s ruling generals cede power immediately, amid charges the military was deliberately sowing chaos to justify its status at the top of the political ladder.

Protesters, many of them organised supporters of Cairo’s main football club known as the Ultras, held up a huge banner to police reading: “Those who didn’t deserve to die have died at the hands of those who don’t deserve to live.”

Many of the dead in the football riot in Port Said were thought to have been Al-Ahly supporters, set upon by partisans of the local Al-Masry side after the Cairo team lost 3-1.

The Ultras played a prominent role in the uprising that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak a year ago, and commentators have speculated that pro-Mubarak forces were behind the massacre, or at least complicit.

The football disaster sparked outrage, prompting demonstrations across the country, that saw police fire tear gas at protesters through a volley of rocks and stones.

Egypt has been gripped by instability since Mubarak’s omnipresent and hated police force disappeared from the streets during the uprising.

In a sign of increased insecurity, gunmen carrying automatic weapons stormed a police station in east Cairo on Friday, freeing detainees before torching the station.

And in the Dokki neighbourhood, a group of men attacked a police station, taking weapons from the building.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) blamed the unrest on “foreign and domestic hands targeting the country.”

In a statement on Facebook, it urged “all political and national forces of this great nation to take a national and historic role and intervene… to return stability.”

Wednesday’s clashes between fans marked one of the deadliest incidents in football history, and came amid claims by witnesses that security forces did little to prevent it.

After the final whistle, victorious Al-Masry fans invaded the pitch, throwing rocks, bottles and fireworks at Al-Ahly supporters, causing panic as players and fans fled in all directions, witnesses said.

State television reported on Saturday that the Egyptian Football Association’s board of directors tendered their resignations, a day after the prosecutor general slapped a travel ban on Samir Zaher, head of the association, and on Port Said’s ex-governor, Mohammed Abdullah.

“In Egypt, football has been victim of political interference,” Sepp Blatter, head of world football’s governing body FIFA, said late Friday.

For months, Egyptians have taken to the streets to demand the ouster of the SCAF and its chief, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who was Mubarak’s defence minister for two decades.

The SCAF has pledged to cede full powers to civilian rule when a president is elected by the end of June, but its opponents believe it intends to hold on to power behind the scenes after a transfer to civilian rule.

In the Sinai, the brief abduction on Friday of two US tourists and their guide by masked gunmen dealt a new blow to Egypt’s already hard-hit tourism sector, despite their release unharmed several hours later.