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Egyptian soccer fans stampede after game; 74 dead
CAIRO — At least 74 people were killed and 248 injured after soccer fans rushed the field in the seaside city of Port Said Wednesday following an upset victory by the home team over Egypt’s top club, setting off clashes and a stampede as riot police largely failed to intervene.
It was a bloody reminder of the security vacuum that faces the Arab world’s most populous country as instability continues nearly a year after former President Hosni Mubarak was swept out of power in a popular uprising.
The melee — which followed an Egyptian league match between Al-Masry, the home team in the Mediterranean city, and Al-Ahly, based in Cairo and one of Egypt’s most popular team — was the worst cases of soccer violence in Egypt and the deadliest worldwide since 1996. One player said it was “like a war.”
In Cairo, another match between Al-Ismaili and Zamalek was halted by authorities because of the Port Said violence, and fans angered by the move set fire to the bleachers at the main stadium in the Egyptian capital, authorities said. No injuries were reported and employees said firefighters put out the blaze before it caused much damage.
The clashes and ensuing stampede did not appear to be directly linked to the political turmoil in Egypt, but the violence raised fresh concerns about the ability of the state police to manage crowds. Most of the hundreds of black-uniformed police with helmets and shields stood in lines and did nothing as soccer fans chased either, some wielding sharp objects and others hurling sticks and rocks.
Security officials said the ministry has issued directives for its personnel not to “engage” with civilians after recent clashes between police and protesters in November left more than 40 people dead.
The violence also underscored the role of soccer fans in Egypt’s recent protest movement. Organized fans, in groups known as ultras, have played an important role in the revolution and rallies against military rule. Their anti-police songs, peppered with curses, have quickly become viral and an expression of the hatred many Egyptians feel toward security forces that were accused of much of the abuse that was widespread under Mubarak’s regime.
Egypt is not immune to soccer violence. In April, the ineffectiveness of the police force also was on display when thousands of fans ran onto the field before the end of an African Champions’ game between local club Zamalek and Tunisia’s club Africain. The hundreds of police on duty at Cairo International Stadium could not stop the violence then either.
Activists quickly scheduled rallies Thursday outside the headquarters of the Interior Ministry in Cairo to protest the inability of the police to stop the bloodshed.
The scuffles began out after fans of Al-Masry stormed the field following a rare 3-1 win against Al-Ahly. Al-Masry supporters hurled sticks and stones as they chased players and fans from the rival team, who ran toward the exits to escape, according to witnesses. One man told state TV he heard gunshots in the stadium, while a lawmaker from Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood said the police didn’t prevent fans carrying knives from entering the stadium.
TV footage showed Al-Ahly players rushing for their locker room as fistfights broke out among the hundreds of fans swarming on to the field. Some men had to rescue a manager from the losing team as he was being beaten. Black-clothed police officers stood by, appearing overwhelmed.
The Interior Ministry said 74 people died, including one police officer, and 248 were injured, 14 of them police. Security forces arrested 47 people for involvement in the violence, the statement said.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim told state TV that 13,000 Al-Masry fans stormed the field, jumping a low fence and attacking about 1,200 Al-Ahly fans. He said the security tried to stop them, and blamed the stampede for many of the deaths.
Al-Ahly goalkeeper Sharif Ikrami, who was injured in the melee, told the private station ONTV that dead and wounded were being carried into the locker room.
By Tom Harris and Madhav Khandekar
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