A riot in the Egyptian city of Port Said has left 79 dead and hundreds wounded after football fans stormed the pitch before engaging in running battles inside the stadium. The government has announced three days of mourning in the country.
The majority of the victims died from suffocation and head injuries, health ministry officials said. Doctors are calling on the local population to donate blood for the injured because the violence has drained hospital reserves.
Some of the more seriously injured were evacuated by transport helicopter from the northern city of Port Said to be treated in military hospitals. The army also dispatched troops to the city to prevent further violence from flaring.
The deadly fight broke out on Wednesday night following a match between the local Al-Masry and the visiting Al-Ahly football teams, which have a long history of rivalry.
The home players scored a rare victory against one of Egypt’s strongest clubs, and the team’s fans rushed onto the pitch.
Some of the Al-Masry fans were said to be offended by an insulting sign held up by Al-Ahly supporters held during the game. In a bid to take revenge, they cornered rival fans, players and coaches.
“The players’ room has turned into a morgue,” said Ahmed Nagy, Al-Ahly’s goalkeeper and coach.
Speaking to the club’s television channel, player Mohamed Abo Treika described the violence as a war.
“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… This is a horrible situation and today can never be forgotten,” he said, as cited by Al Arabiya.
As the ensuing clash erupted, thousands of people tried to flee the violence. Dozens were crushed in the resulting stampede.
Although what triggered the violence remains unclear, Bel Trew, a freelance journalist talking live to RT from Cairo described eye witness reports of security forces who “stepped aside and actually opened the gates which allowed the two fan clubs to come onto the pitch and fight each other,” raising doubts over the security in place at the match.
The journalist spoke of exits to the stadium being blocked, preventing the Al-Ahly fans targeted by the violence from escaping, and causing a fatal crush. She also referred to eyewitness accounts of knife wounds, saying, “we believe the Port Said fans may have been carrying knives.”
While shedding light on the possible contributing factors that led to the Port Said violence Bel Trew signaled the “vacuum of security” that followed the January anniversary of the uprisings that overthrew former leader President Mubarak. She called the lack of a security presence “unprecedented” and linked it to the sharp escalation of crime in the Egypt during recent months.
Mourning and conspiracy
The Egyptian government has called an emergency parliamentary meeting to discuss the deadly football row at Port Said, amid claims that the ruling military council allowed the violence to happen – and even had a hand in causing it.
In response to the violence, Egyptian Prime Minister has accepted the resignation of the governor of Port Said and dissolved the board of the Egyptian Football Association. In addition to this, a full investigation will be launched into why the match went ahead given early signs that fan violence was likely.
FIFA, the international governing body of the game, has appealed to Egypt to release the exact details of the tragedy, while the EU has called for an independent probe to be carried out.
The Egyptian state football federation has postponed all national league matches indefinitely. A match which was underway when the violence in Port Said started was halted.
Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets overnight to honor the victims of the riot, as the country announced three days of mourning. In Suez the commemoration was marred when some radical Al-Ahly fans clashed with police. The attack on a security post was cut short with tear gas.
The tragedy, coming on the heels of the first anniversary of Egypt’s revolution, may have political reverberations. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Isam Al Aryan accused allies of ousted President Hosni Mubarak of orchestrating the bloody clashes.
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