More than 70 dead in Egypt's worst soccer disaster

Yusri Mohamed

* Anger over security forces' failure to prevent unrest

* Most victims killed in crush, say witnesses

* Parliament to meet to discuss the violence

* Remnants of Mubarak regime want more bloodshed-Brotherhood

PORT SAID, Egypt, Feb 2 (Reuters) - 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, the deadliest incident since the ouster of President Hosni

Mubarak from power.

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 biggest disaster in the nation's

soccer history 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 post-match 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.

The 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 and state television quoted Tantawi as saying a

fact-finding committee would investigate the violence.

Deputy Health Minister Hesham Sheiha the "deeply saddening"

event was "the biggest disaster in Egypt's soccer history."


The violence flared after the match between al-Masry and Al

Ahli, whose fans have a history of fierce rivalry. Witnesses

said fighting began after Ahli fans unfurled banners insulting

Port Said and one descended to the pitch carrying an iron bar at

the end of the match, which al-Masry won 3-1.

Al-Masry fans reacted by pouring onto the pitch and

attacking Ahli players before turning to the terraces to attack

rival supporters.

Many fans died in a subsequent stampede, while some were

flung off their seats onto the pitch and were killed by the

fall. At the height of the disturbances, rioting fans fired

flares straight into the stands.

Hospitals throughout the Suez Canal zone were put on a state

of alert and dozens of ambulances rushed to Port Said from the

Canal cities of Ismailia and Suez, said an official in the

zone's local ambulance service.

Live television coverage showed fans running onto the field

and chasing Al Ahli players. A small group of riot police formed

a corridor to try to protect the players, but they appeared

overwhelmed and fans were still able to kick and punch the

players as they fled.

"This is not football. This is a war and people are dying in

front of us. There is no movement and no security and no

ambulances," Al Ahli player Mohamed Abo Treika told his club's

television channel.

Tantawi ordered two helicopters be sent to Port Said to fly

out some of the visiting Al Ahli soccer team and its fans,

military sources said. The helicopters would transfer the

injured to military hospitals, the sources said.

Egypt's top Muslim cleric called the events a massacre that

violated the words and teachings of Islam.

Another match in Cairo was halted by the referee after

receiving news of the violence in Port Said, prompting fans to

set parts of the stadium on fire, television footage showed.

State television reported that Egypt's football federation

had indefinitely suspended premier league matches.

Sepp Blatter, president of the FIFA world soccer federation,

expressed his shock at the tragedy. "This is a black day for

football. Such a catastrophic situation is unimaginable and

should not happen," he said in a statement.


Some enraged politicians and ordinary Egyptians accused

officials still in their jobs after the fall of Mubarak of

complicity in the tragedy, or at least of allowing a security

vacuum in which violence has flourished since last year's


"The security forces are responsible for what happened.

There is no security," said shop owner Farouk Ibrahim, 42,

outside a Port Said hospital where dozens of injured were


"Unknown groups came between the fans and they were the ones

that started the chaos. I was at the match and I saw that the

group that did this are not from Port Said," he said.

"They were thugs, like the thugs the National Democratic

Party used in elections," he said, referring to Mubarak's former

ruling party.

Essam el-Erian, a member of parliament of the Muslim

Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party which topped recent

parliamentary election, said the violence was "pre-planned

and...a message from the remnants of the regime. There are those

who want the bloodshed to continue."

In a statement on its website the Brotherhood later said the

violence had been orchestrated by an "invisible" hand and that

the authorities had been negligent.

"We fear that some officers are punishing the people for

their revolution and for depriving them of their ability to act

as tyrants and restricting their privileges," it added.

Albadry Farghali, a member of parliament for Port Said,

accused officials and security forces of allowing the disaster,

saying they still had ties to the government of Mubarak, who was

overthrown a year ago.

"The security forces did this or allowed it to happen. The

men of Mubarak are still ruling. The head of the regime has

fallen but all his men are still in their positions," he

screamed in a telephone call to live television.

Families of the victims rushed around hospitals in Port

Said. A medical source and witnesses said a number of policemen

were among the dead.

Thursday marks the first anniversary of clashes on Tahrir

Square when Mubarak supporters on camelback charged

pro-democracy demonstrators, and fought with the ultras.

Online activists saw a connection with the ultras.

"The police and army (did not move) a muscle to prevent the

bloodshed," activist Sohair Riad wrote on Facebook. "Their

silence screams complicity. This is a collective assassination

of a group that continues to support the revolution and

struggles against military rule."

(Additional reporting by Dina Zayed, Ali Abdelatti, Edmund

Blair, Yasmine Saleh, Shaimaa Fayed and Patrick Werr in Cairo;

writing by David Stamp; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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