Egypt’s Military Ruler Vows Justice; 74 Dead in Soccer Riot

Posted February 1st, 2012 at 8:30 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

The head of Egypt's ruling military council has vowed to track down those responsible for violence at a soccer match that killed at least 74 people and injured hundreds more in the northern city of Port Said, on the Mediterranean coast.

Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi spoke early Thursday to a sports television channel owned by Al-Ahly, one of the teams involved in the match and the country's top club. Tantawi said the riots “will not affect Egypt and its security.” He made the comments at an air base east of Cairo as he welcomed Al-Ahly team players who were flown back to the Egyptian capital on a military aircraft.

Egypt's interior minister said security forces have arrested 47 people for involvement in the riot. Mohamed Ibrahim said the search for more suspects is continuing. He said 13,000 fans of the home team, Al-Masry, stormed the field, attacking about 1,200 Al-Ahly supporters. He said security guards tried to intervene, and he blamed the stampede for many of the deaths.

Television images showed riot police in the stadium mostly standing idly by as the worst case of soccer violence in Egypt and the deadliest worldwide since 1996 unfolded.

Activists scheduled rallies Thursday outside the Interior Ministry in Cairo to protest the inability of the police to stop the bloodshed. Many gathered outside the Al-Ahly club, chanting slogans against military rule, and hundreds filed into the capital's main train station to receive the injured arriving from Port Said.

Residents also marched in the port city early Thursday, denouncing the violence and calling it a conspiracy by the military and police to cause chaos. Army tanks and armored vehicles joined police patrolling near hospitals and morgues. But police were not seen in the streets after the clashes and were not available to break up fights that followed.

Soon after the riot, another match in Cairo was halted by the referee after receiving news of the violence in Port Said, prompting fans to set parts of that stadium on fire.

Egypt's state prosecutor has ordered an immediate investigation into the violence, and the country's football association called for an indefinite suspension of league games. Parliament said it would convene an emergency session.

Many of the Al-Ahly fans involved were “ultras,” dedicated supporters of the team with years of experience confronting police at football matches. They played a leading role in hitting back at heavy-handed security forces during the uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.

Violence at soccer matches across North Africa has increased significantly since political unrest sweeping across the region began more than a year ago.