Egyptians Protest Lack of Security Following Soccer Disaster

Posted February 2nd, 2012 at 5:45 am (UTC-5)
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Egyptian activists are taking to the streets Thursday to protest the failure of police to prevent violence at a soccer match that left at least 74 people dead and hundreds injured in the northern city of Port Said.

The protesters are angry that most riot police in the stadium appeared to stand idly by as the worst case of soccer violence in Egyptian history unfolded on Wednesday night. Others are concerned that some of the fans were apparently allowed to carry weapons into the stadium.

The violence broke out when fans of the home team, Al-Masry, stormed the field at the end of the match, attacking players and supporters of the visiting Al-Ahly club.

VOA correspondent Elizabeth Arrott reported a tense environment Thursday in Port Said, where troops were deployed to prevent further clashes.

She said some protesters in the city are blaming the police and military for the incident, while others are calling for retaliation against the fans who instigated the violence.

The deputy director of the Port Said General Hospital told VOA that many of the casualties appeared to be the result of suffocation and stab wounds. Witnesses say others died after being trampled or thrown from the terraces of the stadium.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest political party, blamed the violence on supporters of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, saying some are “intent on forcing Egypt into chaos and destruction.”

Egypt's cabinet and parliament are discussing the events during emergency meetings on Thursday, at the beginning of an official three-day period of mourning.

The head of Egypt's military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, has formed a task force to investigate the incident, and promised the riots “will not affect Egypt and its security.”

“God willing, if there is any person planning to destabilize Egypt, he will fail to achieve his goal. Everyone involved in this incident will be handed a fair sentence.”

Police have so far arrested 47 people for involvement in the case. The country's football association called for an indefinite suspension of league games.

The incident has raised fresh concerns about the ability of Egypt's military rulers to preserve security and manage crowds. In April, state police were also criticized after they failed to stop similar riots at a soccer match in Cairo.

The latest incident comes as Egypt struggles to deal with several other security incidents, including a recent increase in armed robberies and kidnappings for ransom.

Some security officials have said that Egypt's often-criticized and largely unpopular state police have been given strict orders to deal carefully with civilians following clashes between protesters and police that left 40 people dead in November.