Football tragedy stokes fury against Egypt army

Football tragedy stokes fury against Egypt army

Football tragedy stokes fury against Egypt army

Egyptians crowd a train station waiting for their friends’ and relatives’ arrival from Port Said in Cairo yesterday. Witnesses say scores of Egyptian soccer fans were stabbed to death while others suffocated, trapped in a long, narrow corridor. AP photo

Seventy-four people were killed when supporters clashed at an Egyptian soccer match Feb. 1, prompting fans and politicians yesterday to accuse the ruling army of failing to prevent the deadliest incident since Hosni Mubarak was ousted.

Clashes erupted as soon as the referee blew the final whistle in a match which saw northern city of Port Said’s team Al-Masri beat Cairo’s Al-Ahly 3-1. At least 1,000 people were injured in the violence when soccer fans invaded the pitch.

The government moved swiftly to sack the Port Said security chief and dissolve the Egyptian Soccer Federation, while Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzuri summoned his cabinet for an emergency meeting. Angry politicians denounced the lack of security at the match and accused military leaders of allowing, or even causing, the fighting as the country officially began three days of mourning yesterday.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that dominates parliament, saw an “invisible” hand at work. Newly elected liberal MP Amr Hamzawy called for the sacking of the interior minister. The Brotherhood has pointed the finger at the interior ministry. “The security vacuum continues, the police officers are punishing us for revolting,” Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said, Ahram Online website reported.

‘Police stood motionless’

“There is invisible planning that is behind this unjustified massacre. The authorities have been negligent,” the group said in a statement on its website, Reuters reported. Essam el-Erian, a Brotherhood lawmaker, said the military and police were complicit in the violence, accusing them of trying to show that emergency regulations giving security forces wide-ranging powers must be maintained. “This tragedy is a result of intentional reluctance by the military and the police,” he said. The country’s military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, announced the partial lifting of emergency law on Jan. 25.

As the referee blew the final whistle, Al-Masri fans flooded the pitch, throwing rocks, bottles and fireworks at Al-Ahly supporters, causing chaos and panic as players and fans ran in all directions trying to flee, Agence France-Presse reported. Ahmed Ghaffar, one of the visiting Al-Ahly fans at the stadium, said “layers of people” were stuck, “suffocating inside a narrow corridor” as they tried to get out of the stadium. “The people were stuck because there was no other exits,” Ghaffar tweeted yesterday, the Associated Press reported.

Ultras points to army

“We were between two choices, either death coming from behind us, or death from the closed doors.” Ghaffar said seconds after the match ended, Al-Masry fans rushed onto the pitch from all sides while the police stood by motionless.

Thousands of Egyptians gathered at the main Cairo train station yesterday, chanting “Down with military rule” and meeting injured fans returning from the match. Demonstrators, many of them al-Ahly supporters known as Ultras, also joined the protests.

“Today, the Marshal and the remnants of the regime send us a clear message. We either have our freedom or they punish us and execute us for participating in a revolution against tyranny,” the group said in the statement. Tantawi took an unusual step of speaking by telephone to a television channel, the sport broadcaster owned by Al-Ahly, vowing to track down the culprits.

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