Sunday, January 27, 2013
Riots continue in Egypt, more than 30 dead in Port Said after soccer verdict
Clashes in Cairo lasted until the early hours of Sunday (Virginie Nguyen, Al Masry al Youm)
At least 32 people were killed on Saturday when Egyptians rampaged in protest at the sentencing of 21 people to death over a soccer stadium disaster, violence that compounds a political crisis facing Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, Reuters reports.
Armored vehicles and military police fanned through the streets of Port Said, where gunshots rang out and protesters burned tires in anger that people from their city had been blamed for the deaths of 74 people at a match last year.
The rioting in Port Said, one of the most deadly spasms of violence since Hosni Mubarak's ouster two years ago, followed a day of anti-Morsi demonstrations on Friday, when nine people were killed. The toll over the past two days stands at 41.
The flare-ups make it even tougher for Morsi, who drew fire last year for expanding his powers and pushing through an Islamist-tinged constitution, to fix the creaking economy and cool tempers enough to ensure a smooth parliamentary election.
That vote is expected in the next few months and is meant to cement a democratic transition that has been blighted from the outset by political rows and street clashes.
The National Defense Council, which is led by Morsi and includes the defense minister who commands the army, called for "a broad national dialogue that would be attended by independent national characters" to discuss political differences and ensure a "fair and transparent" parliamentary poll.
The National Salvation Front of liberal-minded groups and other Mursi opponents cautiously welcomed the call.
Clashes in Port Said erupted after a judge sentenced 21 men to die for involvement in the deaths at the soccer match on February 1, 2012. Many were fans of the visiting team, Cairo's Al Ahly.
Al Ahly fans had threatened violence if the court had not meted out the death penalty. They cheered outside their Cairo club when the verdict was announced. But in Port Said, residents were furious that people from their city were held responsible.
Protesters ran wildly through the streets of the Mediterranean port, lighting tires in the street and storming two police stations, witnesses said. Gunshots were reported near the prison where most of the defendants were being held.
A security source in Port Said said 32 people were killed there, many dying from gunshot wounds. He said 312 were wounded and the ministry of defense had allocated a military plane to transfer the injured to military hospitals.
Inside the court in Cairo, families of victims danced, applauded and some broke down in tears of joy when they heard Judge Sobhy Abdel Meguid declare that the 21 men would be "referred to the Mufti", a phrase used to denote execution, as all death sentences must be reviewed by Egypt's top religious authority.
There were 73 defendants on trial. Those not sentenced on Saturday would face a verdict on March 9, the judge said.
At the Port Said soccer stadium a year ago, many spectators were crushed and witnesses saw some thrown off balconies after the match between Al Ahly and local team al-Masri. Al Ahly fans accused the police of being complicit in the deaths.
Elsewhere rioting was continued as well. In Suez protesters stormed a police station on Saturday following fierce clashes with security forces, and freed prisoners there.They also took the weapons that were left behind by policemen who fled the station as it was being stormed. Later on they set fire to a weapons storage facility and a garage after breaking into the Security Department after funerals for victims of Friday's violence in the city. Also in Cairo and other places lashes continued throughout Saturday.
The Muslim Brotherhood has accused opposition groups of "spreading sabotage," in the wake of violent protest that have gripped the country for the past two days.
In a statement Saturday, the Brotherhood said that the opposition's silence after attacks against its offices and Freedom and Justice Party headquarters amounted to them "gloating over Egypt and Egyptians," and accused opposition groups of supporting such attacks.