Glen Johnson

Death toll continues to rise in football riot fallout

February 6, 2012 New Zealand Herald

The death toll continued to rise as protesters and police clashed for a fourth consecutive day in the Egyptian capital on Sunday, following the death of more than 70 people at a football game in the city of Port Said.

Police fired volleys of tear gas into the crowd – gathered on the maze of streets leading to the Ministry of Interior in downtown Cairo – while protesters hurled rocks and debris. Activists demanded an immediate end to military rule in the country and for the execution of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF).

A number of protesters formed a human-chain between the security forces and protesters, defusing clashes late in the afternoon; while authorities erected concrete barriers, cutting protesters off from the reviled Ministry of Interior, which Egyptians see as a symbol of state repression.

Twelve people have been killed and scores injured – mostly suffering from the mild and temporary effects of tear gas – in the recent unrest, which has spread beyond the capital to Suez and the coastal city of Alexandria.

The violence erupted after fanatical supporters of the al-Masry football team attacked fans of a rival Cairo team, al-Ahly, in Port Said on Wednesday, leaving 74 people dead. Some were trampled to death and others stabbed or thrown from the stadium’s stands.

Suspicions – as yet, unproven – that SCAF engineered the violence led to the the recent round of protest, which has united fans of rival Cairo football teams, known as “ultras”, similar to the situation during last year’s 18-day uprising and again during the bloody months of November and December, when anti-SCAF protesters clashed with police and soldiers.

Standing on Mohammed Mahmoud Street, the acerbic sting of tear gas still lingering in the air, Ahmed Abdul Adi said that the military would not hand over to civilian rule.

“I am here to send a message for the government: we need a president now,” Abdul Adi, an accountant, said.

“Tantawi will try to keep the power and control the government. He is scared he will suffer the same fate as Mubarak.”

However, crowds – while impassioned – have diminished and lack sufficient numbers to drive through any of their demands. SCAF has vowed to find and punish those responsible for the violence in Port Said’s football stadium.

Early evening, protesters continued to chant, calling “leave” and demanded that Tantawi be tried. Men distributed gas masks and football fans waved their clubs’ flags.

The military is due to hand over power in June, following the amending of Egypt’s constitution and the election of a president.

The final stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections – for the upper house of parliament – will be completed during a two-day vote, mid-February.

Recent elections for the lower house of parliament saw two rival Islamist parties secure around three-quarters of the vote.

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