Egypt unrest: Death sentences over football riots spark violence

Aleem Maqbool: "This was always going to be a case where there was going to be violence"

At least 30 people have died in Port Said, officials say, in clashes sparked by the sentencing to death of 21 local people over football riots in Egypt.

Supporters of the defendants tried to storm the prison holding them and attacked police stations.

The 21 were sentenced over riots which killed 74 people after a football game at Port Said stadium last February.

Saturday's violence follows a day of unrest on the second anniversary of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt's national defence council, which is headed by President Mohammed Morsi, has condemned the violence and called for dialogue, saying it would consider declaring a curfew in affected areas if necessary.

Thousands of people had taken to the streets on Friday to voice their opposition to the Islamist president, accusing him of betraying the revolution.

Port Said 2012 football deaths

  • 74 people killed in Port Said stadium on 2 February 2012
  • Clashes broke out between rival fans of clubs al-Masry and al-Ahly
  • Fans flooded on to pitch attacking Ahly players and fans as match ended
  • Most died of concussion, cuts and suffocation
  • The largest death toll in Egypt's football history

At least seven people were killed and more than 450 wounded in unrest across Egypt.

All 21 defendants sentenced to death on Saturday were fans of Port Said club al-Masry. When the verdicts were announced by a judge in the Cairo court, relatives of victims cheered.

However, the ruling caused supporters of the defendants to go on a rampage in Port Said. Two police officers were shot dead outside the city's prison and the state security building was reportedly set on fire.

At least another 28 people were killed and about 300 were wounded in further clashes, officials said.

Two footballers were among those killed in Saturday's clashes, state news agency Mena reported. They are former al-Masry goalkeeper Tamir al-Fahlah and Muhammad al-Dadhawi, a player for a lower-division Port Said club.

The violence continued despite the deployment of army units on the city's streets.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, clashes also broke out between police and protesters near Egypt's Interior Ministry. Police fired tear gas to try to prevent them from reaching the building.

Stones and fireworks

Last year's football riots led to the suspension of the league.

Analysis

Both Cairo and Port Said have seen dramatic clashes in the past 24 hours but for different reasons.

Ultras, the die-hard fans of al-Ahly, Egypt's most successful club, took to the streets of the capital to show satisfaction after 21 people were sentenced to death for their role in last February's football violence.

They waved their club's red flag as they clashed with police near Tahrir Square, where large crowds had earlier gathered to mark the second anniversary of the 25 January uprising.

Ultras played a key role in the protests that overthrew President Mubarak. Many believe that Mubarak loyalists hatched a plot to target them at al-Ahly's away match to Port Said's al-Masry team and criticise police for failing to act.

In Port Said, violence erupted at the criminal court when relatives of the convicted men rushed forwards to try to free them, killing two police officers. Elsewhere, Ultras al-Masry went on the rampage. They argue these verdicts were political.

They began minutes after the game, when al-Masry fans invaded the pitch, hurling stones and fireworks at visiting supporters from Cairo club al-Ahly.

A section of al-Ahly supporters, known as the "ultras", played a prominent role in the protests against ex-President Mubarak.

Some accused supporters of the toppled leader of instigating the Port Said violence. They also accused police of doing little to prevent the violence.

Seventy-three people, including nine policemen, were tried over the stadium clashes. None are al-Ahly fans.

The judge said he would announce verdicts for the remaining defendants on 9 March.

Economic 'collapse'

Friday saw a big anti-government rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square, with opposition supporters clashing with police.

There was also unrest in 12 out of 27 of Egypt's provinces. At least six of the deaths occurred in Suez.

In Ismailia, protesters set fire to the headquarters of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. The city's governorate headquarters was later also stormed.

The liberal opposition accuses Mr Morsi of being autocratic and driving through a new constitution that does not protect adequately freedom of expression or religion.

Map

The government is also being blamed for a deepening economic crisis.

One of the demonstrators at Cairo's Tahrir Square, Momen Asour, said he had come to demand an end to President Morsi's rule.

"We have not seen anything, Neither freedom, nor social justice, or any solution to unemployment, or any investment," he said. "On the contrary, the economy has collapsed."

President Morsi and his allies have dismissed the claim, saying they have a democratic mandate following recent elections. The constitution, drawn up by an Islamist-dominated body, was approved by a referendum last month.

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