CAIRO, Feb 9- Egypt has suspended all major football games after 19 people were killed in the latest outbreak of violence between fans and police, authorities said Monday.
Egyptian football fans have been repeatedly involved in the country’s explosive political mix and Sunday’s unrest raised fears of further clashes in the days ahead.
The violence — reminiscent of clashes that killed more than 70 people after a football match in Port Said in 2012 — erupted as thousands of fans tried to force their way into a Cairo stadium to watch a game, triggering panic as police fired tear gas and birdshot at the crowds.
Health officials and police said all the victims were crushed in a stampede, with some suffering broken necks.
“Nineteen people died,” interior ministry spokesman Hani Abdel Latif told AFP, revising an earlier death toll of 22 given by prosecutors.
Abdel Latif said 22 policemen were also injured in the clashes and 18 people were arrested.
Khaled al Khatib, head of Egypt’s emergency services, confirmed the death toll.
“The deaths were caused due to a stampede. There are no signs of gunshot or birdshot,” Khatib said.
“The victims had lots of bruises, while some had broken necks… People were trampling each other.”
At least 25 others were injured, the health ministry said.
The match continued despite the unrest, provoking further outrage among fans.
The clashes prompted the government to postpone the Egyptian Premier League indefinitely, the prime minister’s office said in a statement.
– ‘Trampling over one another’ –
Sunday’s match between Zamalek and Enppi had been open to the public, unlike most other games between Egyptian clubs since the 2012 Port Said riots, the country’s worst-ever sport disaster.
The interior ministry had restricted to 10,000 the number of spectators allowed into the stadium on Sunday.
Thousands of fans without tickets scaled the stadium walls before police dispersed them, the interior ministry said.
Zamalek supporters aimed fireworks at the police, who fired tear gas and birdshot back, police and witnesses said.
“There was a police car on fire and they were shooting birdshot and tear gas,” a witness told AFP.
Another witness, Mostafa Ibrahim, said: “Police fired tear gas at a large number of fans in a very narrow place. People were trampling over one another trying to escape.”
The government accused the football fans of starting the clashes.
“Because of these sad events it has been decided to postpone the league to a time that will be decided later,” it said in a statement.
Outside a Cairo morgue where the bodies were taken, dozens of relatives wept and wailed while others pored over a list of the dead trying to identify loved ones.
“The youths are supposed to be building this country and the police are killing them,” one man shouted.
Others scuffled with morgue security who were blocking their access.
The state prosecutor ordered an investigation into the clashes, a statement from his office said.
The statement said the fans had blocked a road leading to the stadium and torched three police vehicles.
Sunday’s deaths could inflame football fans, who have repeatedly clashed with police in recent years and can bring thousands to the streets.
After the deadly football riots in Port Said, a court handed out death sentences to 21 people before an appeals court ordered a retrial that has yet to conclude.
Football fans played a key role in Egypt’s 2011 revolution that ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak and have continued to be a volatile force in the troubled country.