At least 30 killed in Egyptian clashes after soccer verdict


An Egyptian soccer fan of Al-Ahly club displays scales to fans celebrating a court verdict that returned 21 death penalties in last years soccer violence, inside the club premises in Cairo, Egypt on Jan. 26, 2013. (Ahmed Ramadan/AP)

Clashes broke out in the Egyptian coastal city of Port Said on Saturday, leaving at least 30 dead and several hundred injured, following a court verdict imposing death sentences on 21 people for killings during a soccer riot in the city last year.

It was the second day of violence in Egypt after tens of thousands of protesters marking the two-year anniversary of their revolution clashed with police in cities across the country Friday, leaving at least nine people dead in the city of Suez and more than 260 others injured nationwide, according to state officials.

The Egyptian military deployed to Suez and Port Said on Saturday, and the Interior Ministry said Saturday night that it had arrested 130 people, across nine of Egypt’s 27 provinces, in connection with the violence.

Information Minister Salah Abdel-Maksoud also said the National Defense Council would consider implementing a curfew and a state of emergency as violence persisted in Cairo, Port Said and Suez.

All of those killed in Port Said on Saturday died of gunshot wounds, as protesters angered by the court verdict battled police outside the prison where the defendants were being held and at police stations, said Abdel Rahman Farah, the manager of the city’s hospitals. Two soccer players, including a former member of Port Said’s Al-Masry club, were among the dead, the Associated Press reported.

At least 300 people were injured in the city, Farah said.

Anger toward Egypt’s new Islamist government, as well as fallout last month over a constitution rushed to approval by President Mohamed Morsi, has contributed to a deep national rift over the legitimacy and effectiveness of Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president.

But the tensions that rippled from Friday into Saturday, incorporating a host of popular grievances, also underscore the sense of injustice that lingers in this nation of 85 million two years after the fall of autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak.

In Saturday’s verdict, a Cairo judge sentenced to death 21 people charged in the killing of 74 soccer fans in a riot that broke out between fans of the club team Al-Ahly and Port Said’s Al-Masry club team after a match last February in the coastal city. A verdict is expected for the remaining 52 defendants in March.

The announcement sparked exclamations of surprise and tears from victims’ families in the courtroom and outside the Al-Ahly soccer club in Cairo where fans had gathered. But it sparked anger in Port Said, home to most of the defendants, where their families and supporters tried to storm the prison.

Television news showed protesters fighting police amid clouds of tear gas outside the prison complex and along side streets Saturday afternoon.

“All the shops are closed, and the city is under complete paralysis,” said Mohamed, a hotel owner in the center of the city who declined to give his last name out of anxiety about the security situation.

TIMELINE: Key events in Egypt since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.

Others reported that residents were stocking up on groceries in preparation for days of clashes.

In the two years since a popular uprising ousted Mubarak, Egyptians spanning the spectrum from rights groups and victims of violence and corruption to defendants and their supporters have complained of a highly politicized and ineffective justice system. Many say the courts have failed to adequately investigate charges and that verdicts are often issued less as the culmination of a comprehensive trial than as token gestures to appease popular anger.

Residents of Port Said on Saturday described the verdict as political — a misplaced punishment designed to placate Al-Ahly’s die-hard fans, known as Ultras, who claim most of the victims as their own. As police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters outside the prison, residents also removed the Egyptian flag from several city buildings in a show of opposition to a government they felt had betrayed them, several news outlets reported. Other men tried to storm at least two police stations, local media reported.

“It was a political ruling and nothing more,” said Mohamed Zakaria, a representative of the Port Said teachers union. “They want to minimize the protests in Tahrir and get the Ultras on the side of the ruling authorities,” he said.

In anticipation of an unsatisfactory verdict in the Port Said case, the Al-Ahly Ultras took to the streets of Cairo this past week, temporarily occupying subway tracks and leaving threatening graffiti on the city’s walls. The Port Said violence last year was the world’s deadliest soccer riot in 15 years.

Tens of thousands of opposition protesters also took to the streets Friday to voice opposition to Morsi. Clashes erupted between the protesters and police on the fringes of Cairo’s Tahrir Square and outside the presidential palace and state TV building. Protesters also attacked offices belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, which backs Morsi.

The National Salvation Front, a loose and often divided alliance of opposition parties and activists, said Saturday that it would boycott Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary elections if its demands that Morsi form a “national salvation” government and abandon the country’s newly ratified constitution were not met.

The constitution, which critics say has opened the door to a stricter interpretation of Islamic law, was overwhelmingly approved in a national referendum last month.

Sharaf al-Hourani contributed to this report.

Abigail Hauslohner has been The Post’s Cairo bureau chief since 2012. She served previously as a Middle East correspondent for Time magazine and has been covering the Middle East since 2007.
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