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Protesters besiege Cairo ministry over soccer deaths

Cairo, February 3, 2012

Protesters laid siege to Egypt's Interior Ministry on Friday, pushing their protest against the military-led government into a second day in a show of anger triggered by the deaths of 74 people in the country's worst soccer disaster.

One person died in Cairo from a shotgun pellet wound and two were killed in the city of Suez as police used live rounds to hold back crowds trying to break into a police station, witnesses and the ambulance authority said.

The demonstrations erupted following the deaths at a football stadium in Port Said. Most of those killed were crushed to death in a stampede but protesters hold the military-led authorities responsible.

Several thousand protesters threw rocks towards the ministry building in central Cairo through the night. Security forces fired tear gas but the protesters continually regrouped.

Of the few vehicles in the usually congested downtown area, most were ambulances that ferried casualties from the clashes.

By Friday morning, a hard core of demonstrators had heaved aside a concrete barrier blocking a main road near the ministry to take closer aim at the building. A Reuters witness heard firing and found gun pellets on the ground.

"We will stay until we get our rights. Did you see what happened in Port Said?" said 22-year-old Abu Hanafy, who arrived from work on Thursday evening and decided to join the protest.

Revolutionary youth groups were calling for a mass weekend protest named the "Friday of Anger." By late morning, a few hundred people had joined protesters who slept overnight in Cairo's central Tahrir Square.

Ambulances had to intervene overnight to extract riot police whose truck took a wrong turn into a street full of protesters.

Protesters surrounded the vehicle for at least 45 minutes, rocking it while the police were inside. Some of the demonstrators then formed a human corridor to help them escape.

Close to 400 people have been hurt in the confrontations that erupted late on Thursday, the health ministry said, many of them suffering from inhaling tear gas fired by riot police who the Interior Ministry said were protecting the building.

Rocks thrown by protesters were strewn across streets that two months ago witnessed violent clashes between police and activists who see the Interior Ministry as an unreformed vestige of former president Hosni Mubarak's rule.

"The crimes committed against the revolutionary forces will not stop the revolution or scare the revolutionaries," said a pamphlet printed in the name of the Ultras.

In Suez, witnesses said fighting broke out at a local police station in the early hours of Friday. "We received two corpses of protesters shot dead by live ammunition," said a doctor at a morgue where the bodies were kept.

A witness said: "Protesters are trying to break into the Suez police station and police are now firing live ammunition."

The soccer stadium deaths have heaped new criticism on the military council, which has governed Egypt since Mubarak stepped down a year ago in the face of mass protests. Critics regard them as part of his administration and an obstacle to change.

The army leadership, in turn, has presented itself as the guardian of the "January 25 revolution." It has promised to hand power to an elected president by the end of June.

At least 1,000 people were injured in the soccer violence when fans invaded the pitch after local team al-Masry beat Cairo-based Al Ahli, the most successful club in Africa.

Hundreds of al-Masry supporters surged across the pitch to the visitors' end and panicked Ahli fans dashed for the exit. But the steel doors were bolted shut and dozens were crushed to death in the stampede, witnesses said.

The cause of the violence has been the focus of intense speculation. Some believe it was triggered by unknown provocateurs working for remnants of the Mubarak administration who are seeking to sabotage the transition to democracy.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said the fans started it.

"The events started with provocations between the Ahli and Masry crowds, then insults, until it ended up with those sorrowful events," he told the Egyptian TV station CBC during a telephone interview.-Reuters




Tags: Egypt | Cairo | Football | Ministry | Protesters | Fans | soccer deaths |

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