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Violence, accusations paralyze Egypt

Mideast Egypt
Protesters sign for peace in Cairo after tear gas is fired at demonstrators.
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CAIRO (AP)

Hundreds of demonstrators were injured in fresh clashes with Egyptian police Thursday night as thousands took to the streets to protest the soccer stadium riots that claimed 74 lives.

Police in central Cairo fired tear gas at demonstrators who marched toward the heavily fortified interior ministry headquarters in their thousands, the majority blaming the country's ruling military for the tragic events in Port Said a day earlier.

Sky News said gunshots were heard and police were pelted with stones as baying crowds demanded military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi step down.

Ambulances ferried the injured across nearby Tahrir Square, the iconic focal point for protests that led to the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak one year ago.

"They know how to protect a ministry but not a stadium," one protester told AFP. His fellow demonstrators tore down a barbed wire fence that stood in their path, chanting, "This was not a sports accident, this was a military massacre."

Health ministry officials told the news agency that 388 people were hurt, mostly by inhaling tear gas.

The situation was less chaotic but nonetheless tense in Port Said, where troops were deployed Thursday night to quell further threats of trouble.

The protests followed a day of bitter accusations and recriminations triggered by Egypt's worst ever outbreak of soccer-related violence at a league game in the northeastern coastal city.

Security forces have come under intense scrutiny for failing to halt rampaging Al Masry fans who rushed the field following a shock 3-1 home victory over Egyptian Premier League rival Al Ahly, chasing and attacking opposition supporters and players with knives, flares and rocks.

Many Egyptians were openly questioning Thursday whether supporters of Mubarak and the ruling military provoked or overlooked the violence to justify the need for wide-ranging emergency powers, or to take vengeance on hardcore fans of Al Ahly, Egypt's biggest club, who are said to have played a significant part in last year's anti-Mubarak demonstrations.

Prime Minister Kamal al Ganzuri faced heckling and anger from lawmakers as he confirmed Thursday the dismissal of the soccer federation's director and the entire management board for failing to handle the disaster, AFP reported.

Ganzuri, who took office in November following Mubarak's overthrow, told an extraordinary session of parliament he also accepted the resignation of the governor of Port Said and suspended the city's director of security and head of investigations.

All are now in custody and will be questioned as part of a major investigation into the trouble. Soccer's world governing body, FIFA, has also demanded a full report into the violence.

TRAGEDY IN EGYPT

Football violence rears its ugly head in Egypt. Here's a look at the tragedy from the soccer stadium in Port Said.

Authorities were heavily criticized for an incompetent and unnaturally slow response to the clashes inside the stadium Wednesday.

As players fled to the locker rooms, supporters fought bloody running battles with opposition fans and overwhelmed security, hurling rocks, flares and bottles before a deadly stampede broke out.

Officials say most of those killed succumbed to head injuries, stab wounds or were crushed as they tried to escape via the stadium gates, which were reportedly locked. A report in The Wall Street Journal suggested some terrified supporters were thrown from the stadium's 30 foot (9m) high stands.

There were further reports Thursday that few fans were frisked for weapons as they entered the stadium, adding to suspicions security officials were negligent, or even complicit in the bloodshed.

Troops were eventually deployed to end the rioting and evacuate the players, while dozens of people were arrested. Egypt's Ministry of Health said 248 people were injured.

Prior to its dissolution Thursday, the nation's soccer federation indefinitely suspended all games and confirmed the sport "will be in mourning for three days for the souls of those who have fallen victim to the violence."

The Muslim Brotherhood, now the country's biggest political party, has pointed the finger of blame squarely at Mubarak supporters.

"The events in Port Said are planned and are a message from the remnants of the former regime," it said in a statement Wednesday, claiming the bloodshed was caused by "negligence and the lack of army and police."

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