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Egypt Football Verdict Sparks Deadly Clashes

by Edward Yeranian January 26, 2013

Egyptian authorities say at least 30 people have been killed in violence that erupted in the coastal city of Port Said, after a court handed down death sentences over last year's deadly football riot. Army enforcements are being deployed to the area to restore order.

Clashes broke out Saturday between relatives of those sentenced to death and police guarding the prison where those convicted are being held. The violence spread with reports of rival groups of football fans firing live rounds at each other and police.

Reinforcements from Egypt's Second Army were ordered into the city to prevent further clashes. Egyptian state TV reported that a curfew was being imposed to calm the situation. Fans known, as ultras, were said to be blocking the city's main railway station.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi cancelled a planned trip to Ethiopia, meeting instead with his security cabinet to discuss violence across the country.

Saturday's clashes erupted after Judge Sobhi Abdel Meguid read out his verdict convicting 21 of 74 defendants to death in a 2012 Port Said football stadium riot that killed 74 people.

Judge Abdel Meguid tried to restore order in the court, after families of those killed in the stampede interrupted sentencing to applaud the verdict. The judge noted that Egypt's grand mufti will now review the death sentences before they are carried out. Fifty-two other defendants will be sentenced on March 9.

Fans of Cairo's top-ranking al Ahly soccer team who had travelled to Port Said to hear the verdict chanted in approval along a street facing the court house. Many Ahly fans were among the victims of the 2012 stampede. Rival Port Said fans protested the verdict on another street.

In Cairo, ultras and other young hooligans clashed intermittently with security forces off of Tahrir Square near the interior ministry and facing Egypt's parliament building. Young men threw stones and police lobbed occasional rounds of tear gas at demonstrators.

Hundreds of protesters remained in the square for a second day of protests against the government Saturday. Several dozen protesters were also camped out in tents in the center of the square, where huge crowds had marked the second anniversary of the uprising that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.

Political leaders from Egypt's opposition National Salvation Front held a news conference Saturday calling for further demonstrations next Friday to protest a controversial constitution approved last month. The front is also demanding that a new unity government be formed.

"To form a national salvation government, which enjoys efficiency and credibility, in order to fulfill the demands of the revolution.....after the policies of the president and his government over the last few months have led to the deterioration of the living standards of Egyptians," a spokesman said.

Other opposition demands include: formation of an independent committee to investigate violence against protesters, appointment of a new general prosecutor, and a boycott of parliamentary elections set for April if its demands are not met.



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