Egypt mourns 74 killed in football tragedy
Egypt began three days of mourning on Thursday after 74 people were killed in an eruption of violence at a football match that sparked new anger against the military rulers for failing to ensure security.
The rioting Wednesday night in the northern city of Port Said marked one of the deadliest incidents in football history and sent shares on the Cairo stock exchange plunging 4.6 percent in Thursday morning trade.
The government moved swiftly to sack the Port Said security chief while Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzuri summoned his cabinet for an emergency meeting later Thursday.
Clashes erupted as soon as the referee blew the final whistle in a match which saw home team Al-Masri beat Cairo’s Al-Ahly 3-1.
Al-Masri fans flooded the pitch, throwing rocks, bottles and fireworks at Al-Ahly supporters, causing chaos and panic as players and fans ran in all directions trying to flee, witnesses said.
Photos of bleeding players circulated on the Internet.
Gunfire was also reported on the main road leading to Port Said from Cairo, and troops were deployed to prevent further clashes.
State television ran footage of riot police standing rigidly in rows as pandemonium erupted around them.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim has said most of the deaths were caused by the crush but medics said some people were stabbed.
The health ministry said 74 people were killed, including a policeman. Hundreds were also reported wounded. Police said 47 people had been arrested.
The ruling military announced three days of national mourning and Ibrahim fired city security chief Essam Samak because of the violence.
Stocks in Cairo tumbled by 4.6 percent in late morning trade, with the EGX-30 index of leading shares falling from 4.688 points at opening to 4.471 points.
The clashes — blamed by the Muslim Brotherhood on supporters of fallen president Hosni Mubarak — came as the country struggles with a wave of incidents linked to poor security.
Politicians, fans and players took to social media to express their fury over the clashes, which cap a year of political upheaval and unrest after the uprising that unseated Mubarak.
“There are dead people lying on the ground! There are dead people in the changing room,” Al-Ahly striker Emad Meteab told the team’s satellite channel.
“I won’t play football anymore until these people get justice,” a furious Meteab said.
Egypt’s hated police force, which recently came under fire for its heavy-handed tactics, had been given instructions to deal carefully with protesters, sources said.
State television said Egypt’s military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi who took power when the Mubarak was ousted on February 11 last year, sent two military planes to fly out the players and the injured from Port Said late Wednesday.
He stressed that the country’s security “is fine” as he waited at a Cairo airport to meet the players and wounded fans.
In Geneva FIFA President Sepp Blatter said he was shocked by the incident.
“This is a black day for football. Such a catastrophic situation is unimaginable and should not happen,” he said.
Politicians in Cairo expressed fury at the deaths, with newly elected liberal MP Amr Hamzawy calling for the sacking of the interior minister and Port Said’s governor.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest political force, accused Mubarak supporters of instigating the football violence.
“The events in Port Said are planned and are a message from the remnants of the former regime,” said MP Essam al-Erian in a statement on the Islamist group’s Freedom and Justice Party website.
“This tragedy is the result of negligence and the lack of army and police, and those running the country bear the responsibility,” Erian added.
“There are those who deliberately want to sow chaos in the country and place obstacles in front of the peaceful transfer of power.”
Since Mubarak’s ouster, Egypt has seen sporadic and sometimes deadly unrest coupled with a sharp rise in crime linked to the scarcity of the unpopular police, who were heavily criticised for their crackdown on protesters during the uprising.
In September Egyptian football fans clashed with police in a Cairo stadium, injuring nearly 80 people, as they chanted slogans against Mubarak and his interior minister — both now on trial for the killing of protesters during the uprising.