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October 23, 2021

Anger flares in Egypt after 79 die in soccer riot

One witness says police did not step in when fighting broke out on the stadium. New protests loom in the capital.

CAIRO – Egyptians began three days of mourning Thursday for the 79 people who perished at a violent soccer riot, as the nation’s fledgling parliament erupted in anger over the national tragedy, CNN reported. The speaker of the parliament ordered an end to a live broadcast of Thursday’s parliament session, so heated was the debate. But the order was retracted after angry lawmakers made their objections known. A deputy of the Muslim Brother­hood’s Freedom and Justice Party demanded the resignation of the interior minister, holding him responsible for the loss of lives. Another deputy accused security guards of allowing fans to bring weapons into the stadium in Port Said.

A committee will investigate the circumstances that caused the deadly riot Wednesday at the match pitting Cairo’s Al-Ahly team against Al-Masry of Port Said. It remained unclear whether the riots were ignited by intense sporting rivalry or political strife. Egyptians just marked the one-year anniversary of their revolution that toppled the longtime dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, somber protesters, many dressed in popular Al-Ahly club attire, decried Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces even though Field Marshall Mohamed Tantawi had tried to allay their fears. Prime Minster Kamal Ganzouri suspended Port Said’s security chief and the head of police investigation. The two men will face a probe. Ganzouri also accepted the resignation of the Port Said governor. When the referee blew the final whistle, the score was Al-Masry 3, Al-Ahly 1. Thousands of Al-Masry fans stormed the pitch despite their home team’s hard-fought victory. Rival fans attacked one another with rocks and chairs. Many of those who died fell from bleachers inside the stadium, said Ahmed Saeed, an official from the Port Said governor’s office. Others suffocated.

“The police did nothing to stop it,” Al-Ahly supporter Amr Khamis told CNN at the train station in Cairo after returning from the match. Authorities contributed to escalating the violence, said Mamdouh Eid, executive manager of the Al-Ahly fans committee. “The police stood there watching, and the ambulances arrived late. I carried several dead fans in my arms,” he said.

The violence is one of the world’s worst sporting disasters and prompted officials to suspend indefinitely Egypt’s football premier league. The Confederation of African Football said a minute’s silence would be held at the quarter-final matches of the African Cup of Nations at the weekend. World football body Fifa said it was “in mourning” and had asked Egypt for a full report on the incidents, according to the BBC. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood – which has emerged as Egypt’s biggest party in recent elections – blamed supporters of ousted President Hosni Mubarak for the violence.

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