Egypt riot over soccer verdict turns deadly
By Betsy Hiel
Published: Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 9:20 p.m.
CAIRO – At least 30 Egyptians are dead and more than 300 injured in the coastal city of Port Said as a result of a second day of violence in the world's most populous Arab nation.
One activist described the city as “in a bloody state.”
The Port Said bloodshed occurred as 21 people were convicted and sentenced to death for the killings of 72 soccer fans during a 2012 riot.
Ten deaths were reported in Suez, and one each in Ismailia and the capital, after protests on Friday, the second anniversary of a revolution that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Protesters condemned the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsy for incompetence, dictatorial rule and trying to impose an Islamic state.
Soldiers were deployed to Port Said and Suez.
In Cairo, youths battled security forces around Tahrir Square into a second night. They tried to attack the Interior Ministry, headquarters for security forces, and set fires on a main bridge over the Nile.
President Morsy canceled a planned trip to Ethiopia and met for the first time with his National Defense Council to consider a curfew.
“This is not going to end because it became bloody,” said Muhamed El Agouz, 28, an activist in Suez with the April 6 Movement, which helped spark 2011's revolt.
He said 20 security-force conscripts began “shooting randomly” at protesters in Suez, adding that one conscript later confirmed the incident. A forensic team said some victims were shot in the back, according to Egyptian press reports.
“Before the victims were falling, we could have had a political dialogue, but now the situation is on fire,” said El Agouz.
Anger toward Egypt's Islamist-led government — and outrage over December's rushed referendum on a constitution written by an Islamist-dominated assembly — has deeply divided the Arab world's leading nation, still a key U.S. ally in the region.
The violence reflects a growing sense of injustice and other widespread grievances in this nation of 85 million, two years after Mubarak's three-decade rule ended.
Many here question Morsy's legitimacy as Egypt's first democratically elected president.
In advance of Saturday's court decisions, hard-core soccer fans known as “Ultras” protested across the capital – a warning of what might erupt if those accused of killing their comrades were acquitted.
A judge in that case issued a partial verdict, postponing 52 cases until March 9. The courtroom erupted with cheers as the sentences were read.
But anger ripped through Port Said, home of most of the defendants, whose relatives tried to storm the prison where they are held. Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition at the mob.
Many Ultras in Cairo celebrated the verdict, but others asked why no security officers were sentenced. A news blackout during the trial added to the speculation.
Since Mubarak's downfall, security forces repeatedly have been acquitted or mildly reprimanded in the killings of protesters.
“It is very sad what is happening in Port Said. There is no government,” said Yehia Negm, 42, a former diplomat watching the upheaval near Cairo's Tahrir Square.
“We are seeing a collapse of the government of President Morsy. No one is talking to the people.”
Other protesters in the capital marched on the Islamist-led parliament.
“We will continue our unfinished revolution,” said one, Heidi Essam, 21, who just completed law school. “We will confront them until we get rid of the Brotherhood.”
As she spoke, black-clad young men gathered nearby; a new phenomenon here known as the Black Bloc, they have vowed to protect protesters from the Brotherhood.
An online Brotherhood posting claimed a Christian militia leader heads the group.
“The Brotherhood is doing this deliberately to create sectarian strife,” said Essam. “We know many of them. They are known to the police, so they want to hide their faces.”
A passing man, however, dismissed the black-masked group as “mercenaries.”
The young men charged police, throwing Molotov cocktails, before retreating from a cloud of tear gas. Some flung smoking gas canisters into the nearby Nile.
As more protesters joined in, a dangerous cat-and-mouse game ensued with police amid the wail of ambulance sirens.
“The trust between the people and security is lost,” said El Agouz, the political activist in Suez. “There is no way to predict what is going to happen after this. Violence creates chaos.”
Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at email@example.com.
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