Egypt clashes enter third day as death toll mounts

February 4, 2012 7:36 am


Egyptians take to the streets/FILE
CAIRO, Feb 4 – Police fired tear gas and birdshot at protesters on Saturday in the third day of deadly clashes in Cairo, as anger at the ruling military boiled over after 74 people died in football-related violence.

The police were responding as dozens of protesters threw stones at officers guarding the interior ministry headquarters hundreds of metres (yards) from the Egyptian capital’s iconic Tahrir Square.

In the the canal city of Suez, two people died in clashes overnight from birdshot wounds, medics said. Hospital officials said nine people have been killed in Cairo and Suez since the start of the clashes on Wednesday.

Marchers had taken to the streets on Friday across the country to demand that the country’s ruling generals cede power immediately after a night of violence in several cities.

The health ministry said 1,051 people were injured on Friday amid thick clouds of tear gas blanketing the road to the ministry in the capital.

Protesters, many of them organised supporters of Cairo’s main football clubs known as the Ultras, held up a huge banner to the police that read: “Those who didn’t deserve to die have died at the hands of those who don’t deserve to live.”

Many of the dead in Wednesday’s football riot in the northern city of Port Said were thought to have been Al-Ahly supporters, set upon by partisans of the local Al-Masry side after the Cairo side lost 3-1.

The Ultras played a prominent role among anti-regime elements in the uprising that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak a year ago, and commentators and citizens have suggested pro-Mubarak forces were behind the massacre, or at least complicit.

In the ongoing aftermath, rocks and stones flew in all directions as police vans in Cairo repeatedly charged the demonstrators before retreating.

At one point, police clubbed protesters who were just metres (yards) away from the ministry headquarters.

Across the street, a building housing the Tax Authority was on fire, state television reported without providing details.

A soldier injured outside the interior ministry on Thursday died in hospital on Friday, the state MENA news agency reported.

In a sign of increased insecurity, gunmen carrying automatic weapons stormed a police station in east Cairo, freeing the detainees before setting fire to the building.

In the Dokki neighbourhood, a group of men attacked a police station, retrieving weapons from the building.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) blamed the unrest on “foreign and domestic hands targeting the country.”

In a statement on Facebook, it urged “all political and national forces of this great nation to take a national and historic role and intervene… to return stability.”

Wednesday’s clashes between fans of home team Al-Masry and Al-Ahly marked one of the deadliest incidents in football history, and came amid claims by witnesses the security forces did little to prevent the rioting.

After the final whistle, victorious Al-Masry fans invaded the pitch, throwing rocks, bottles and fireworks at Al-Ahly supporters, causing panic as players and fans fled in all directions, witnesses said.

On Friday, the prosecutor general slapped a travel ban on the head of the Egyptian Football Association Samir Zaher — a day after he was sacked — and on ex-Port Said governor Mohammed Abdullah, who resigned after the clashes.

“This happened under the military council whose ouster the people are demanding, and who has proved that it is a failure,” he said.

Egyptians have become increasingly angry with the junta, which they accuse of failing to manage the country and of human rights abuses.

For months, they have taken to the streets to demand the ouster of the SCAF and its chief, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who was Mubarak’s defence minister for two decades.

The SCAF has pledged to cede full powers to civilian rule when a president is elected by the end of June, but its opponents believe it intends to hold on to power behind the scenes after a transfer to civilian rule.

In the Sinai, the brief abduction of two US tourists by masked gunmen dealt a new blow to Egypt’s already hard-hit tourism sector, despite their release unharmed several hours later.

The kidnappers stole watches, phones and money from the tour bus on its way from the historic St Catherine’s monastery to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh before snatching the two women and their guide, security officials told AFP.


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