Soccer deaths spark new Egypt protests
PORT SAID, EGYPT
Three days of national mourning began with fresh unrest in Egypt Thursday as protesters poured on to the streets to voice their anger over the soccer stadium riots that claimed 74 lives and left hundreds injured.
Police in central Cairo reportedly fired tear gas at demonstrators who marched toward the interior ministry headquarters in the 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 stones lobbed at police while medics told AFP around 20 people were injured after inhaling tear gas.
There were violent clashes in nearby Tahrir Square, the focal point for protests that led to the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak a year ago, the news agency said. "This was not a sports accident, this was a military massacre," demonstrators chanted.
Troops were also deployed across Port Said 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 confirmed Thursday he had dismissed the soccer federation's director and 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.
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.
Most of those killed reportedly succumbed to head injuries, stab wounds or were crushed as they tried to escape via the stadium gates, which were reportedly still locked. The stadium's locker rooms were turned into makeshift morgues.
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 in the country 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."