Egypt Football Riots: First Funerals Take Place After Port Said Tragedy
The first funerals are taking place today for some of the 74 football fans left dead following Wednesday’s riot at a match in Egypt’s Port Said.
Pallbearers were pictured carrying coffins from morgues in Cairo, as three days of national mourning were announced and Tahrir Square was closed off.
A protest march has been planned for Thursday in Cairo as part of an outcry against the police's failure to prevent the deaths and the Egyptian parliament is to hold an emergency session to discuss the tragedy.
The riot on Wednesday was sparked by a pitch invasion at a game in the northern coastal city of Port Said.
The fighting began after fans of Al Masry, the home team, flooded the pitch following a rare 3-1 victory over rivals Al-Ahly, the country’s top team.
The Egyptian government is being blamed for the violence, which saw missiles, flares and bottles thrown as fans chased players from rival teams. Some team members were reportedly injured. State TV showed fights breaking out across the pitch. The losing team’s manager was attacked.
The violence follows a year of unrest in the North African state, which saw President Hosni Mubarak removed from power in one of the early charges of the Arab Spring.
Egyptian Islamists are saying that the rampage was planned, a violent message from supporters of the deposed Mubarak. Security forces are also being blamed for the deaths, with suggestion that they allowed it to happen, the remnants of the former regime.
Reuters reported that the Egyptian Army was sent to the stadium to ensure the security of the players, who were eventually removed from the ground. Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military regime, met the Al-Ahly team at an air force base near Cairo after they were flown back on a military aircraft.
"This will not bring Egypt down," he said. "These incidents happen anywhere in the world. We will not let those behind it go ...This will not affect Egypt and its security."
Despite the presence of hundreds of police officers, security services seemed helpless to stop the melee as rival fans attacked each other with whatever weapons they could find.
The Egyptian Health Ministry told state TV that hundreds had been injured. According to the Associated Press, Egypt's state prosecutor has ordered an immediate investigation. All further football matches have been suspended.
Hesham Sheiha, Egypt's deputy health minister, told state TV: "This is unfortunate and deeply saddening."
One of the Ahli players, Mohamed Abo Treika, spoke to local TV. He said: "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. I call for the premier league to be cancelled. This is horrible situation and today can never be forgotten.”
Some of the dead include security officials.
The riot is being described as the worst incident of football violence since 1996 when 78 people died at a World Cup qualifying match between Guatemala and Costa Rica.
Following news of the clashes in Port Said, a match between Al-Ismaili and Zamalek in Cairo was cancelled, which led to parts of the stadium being set alight by fans. The fires were quickly put out and no injuries were reported.
Supporters of al-Ahly, known as the Ultras, are known for their violence, and are reported to have been involved in confrontations with the police during the recent political unrest.