Bloomberg News

Egypt Lawmakers Criticize Police After Deadly Soccer Riot

February 04, 2012

(Updates with governor fired in first paragraph, lawmakers in second, prime minister’s comments in fifth.)

Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Egypt’s premier said he accepted the resignation of the governor of Port Said where soccer clashes left more than 70 dead, falling short of lawmakers’ calls for firing the interior minister and purging the police force.

Members of the newly elected parliament demanded the government step down and criticized the ruling military council after the violence, which has deepened political tensions and fueled pressure on the ruling generals to speed up the transfer of power to civilians. Addressing parliament, Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri said the Port Said security chief had been suspended and the head and board of the football association fired.

“It’s not acceptable for the head of the Port Said security, who I don’t absolve of responsibility, to become a scapegoat. We want full cleansing of the interior ministry,” lawmaker Hussein Mohamed Ibrahim said in a televised session of parliament. He said he held the army “fully responsible for protecting this country” and called for the public prosecutor to be fired.

The clashes were the worst outbreak of violence since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown a year ago and the deadliest in the history of Egyptian soccer. The riots underlined the breakdown of security after the political upheavals of the past year, which has seen repeated clashes between security forces and protesters demanding that the ruling generals hand over power.

Premier Quizzed

“I am ready to face any institution because I know I have political responsibility,” el-Ganzouri told parliament. “Some media said, ‘where is the prime minister?’ The prime minister hasn’t even had a chance to change his clothes.”

His address, which was continually interrupted, failed to placate parliamentary members.

“What happened yesterday can’t be called an incident, it’s a conspiracy that the military council should be asked about,” lawmaker Mohamed Abou Hamed said. “The military council must be brought down, the military council must be brought down, the military council must be brought down.”

Parliamentary Speaker Mohamed El-Katatni began today’s emergency session by saying there was a security “failure” in controlling the violence.

Footage from local television stations after yesterday’s game showed crowds rushing onto the field and a fire burning in the stands as police forces stood by following Al-Masry’s 3-1 home victory yesterday against Al-Ahly. Seventy-four people were killed, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported, citing the health ministry. Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said 47 had been arrested, the news agency reported.

Economic Slowdown

Egypt’s economy is struggling to recover from a year of unrest in the wake of the uprising that ousted Mubarak last February. The economy grew 1.8 percent in the last fiscal year through June, the slowest pace in at least a decade, as income from tourism and foreign investment dried up. Tourist arrivals fell 33 percent last year, while international reserves are at the lowest level since March 2005. Today, Egypt’s benchmark stock index, the EGX30 Index, fell 2.2 percent at the 2.30 p.m. close in Cairo, the biggest loss since Dec. 22.

The state-owned Ahramonline website cited two witnesses, identified as Ahmed Gaffar and Mahmoud Hani, as saying police did little to prevent Al Masry fans from invading the pitch. Ibrahim said there was a “semi-deliberate” hostile escalation by some fans, according to Mena.

Violence Condemned

“I have ordered an investigation,” the head of the military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, told reporters last night. “Those responsible will be punished.”

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom & Justice party, which holds the largest bloc in parliament, condemned the violence in a statement, saying the riot “aims to block the peaceful democratic transition of power through internal parties who still have strong relations with the former regime.”

Early today, thousands rallied at the Ramses train station in downtown Cairo to meet Ahly fans returning from the match in the coastal city, Ahramonline said. “Police are the thugs” and “Down with military rule,” chanted Ahly supporters, condemning the military council and Egypt’s security forces as they marched to the train station and gathered on platforms.

The Egyptian Soccer Federation said on its website that it has indefinitely suspended all league matches.

“This is a black day for football,” Sepp Blatter, president of the world soccer governing body, FIFA, said in a statement. “Such a catastrophic situation is unimaginable and should not happen.”

Soccer Rivalry

Cairo-based Al-Ahly, one of Egypt’s most popular teams, is second in the Egyptian league. Al-Masry, which is located on the Mediterranean coast, is fourth. Video footage on the Nile News website shows Al-Ahly players rushing for their dressing room when the field was stormed by spectators after the final whistle, with some having to fight to get past fans.

Al-Ahly goalkeeper coach Ahmed Naji was quoted by Nile News as saying the team’s locker room had turned into a morgue and that a fan died in the room from injuries.

“Players are devastated over the fan that died in the room, and there were 1,000 injured fans on the corridors leading to the changing room,” Naji said.

After the riots in Port Said, officials suspended a game in Cairo between Zamalek and Ismaily. Fans of Zamalek, one of Al- Ahly’s biggest rivals, responded by shooting fireworks into the stands and setting fire to the Cairo Stadium, according to the Telegraph.

--With assistance from Bob Bensch in London, Ahmed A Namatalla in Cairo, Eben Novy-Williams in New York, Nadeem Hamid in Washington and Ladane Nasseri in Dubai. Editors: Andrew J. Barden, Digby Lidstone, Karl Maier.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mariam Fam in Cairo at mfam1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net


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