Seventy-four people were killed and at least 1,000 injured on Wednesday when Egyptian soccer fans staged a pitch invasion in the city of Port Said, in what a deputy minister called the biggest disaster in the nation’s soccer history.
Angry politicians decried a lack of security at the match between Port Said team al-Masry and Cairo’s Al Ahli, Egypt’s most successful club, and blamed the nation’s leaders for allowing – or even causing – the tragedy.
“Down with military rule,” thousands of Egyptians chanted at the main train station Cairo where they awaited the return of fans, quickly turning the latest upsurge in violence into a political demonstration against army rule.
“The people want the execution of the field marshal,” they shouted, turning on the ruler of the military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who tried to assuage anger by vowing to find the culprits in a phone call to a TV channel. The pitch invasion provoked panic among the crowd as rival fans fought, with most of the deaths among people who were trampled in the crush of the panicking crowd or who fell or were thrown from terraces, witnesses and health workers said.
“I saw people holding machetes and knives. Some were hit with these weapons, other victims were flung from their seats, while the invasion happened,” Usama El Tafahni, a journalist in Port Said who attended the match, told Reuters.
Many of the Al Ahli fans involved were “ultras”, dedicated supporters of the team with years of experience confronting police at football matches and who played a leading role in hitting back at heavy-handed security forces during the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
They have been seen as at the vanguard of subsequent clashes with police and the army in violence that followed Mubarak’s ouster, and were also among those who protested outside the Israeli embassy and tore down walls that the army erected to protect the embassy.
Tantawi pledged that the army’s plan to hand over power to civilians would not be derailed.
“Egypt will be stable. We have a roadmap to transfer power to elected civilians. If anyone is plotting instability in Egypt they will not succeed,” he told Al Ahli’s sports channel during his phone-in.
Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said 47 people had been arrested following the unrest and state television quoted Tantawi as saying a fact-finding committee would investigate the violence.
Deputy Health Minister Hesham Sheiha told state television: “This is unfortunate and deeply saddening. It is the biggest disaster in Egypt’s soccer history.”
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