herald

Friday 15 December 2017

'It was like a war'

CARNAGE: At least 74 killed as fans riot, players are attacked and police accused of failing to intervene

AT LEAST 74 people were killed and hundreds injured after soccer fans invaded the pitch in the Egyptian seaside city of Port Said, following an upset victory by the home team over the country's top club.

The result set off clashes and a stampede as riot police largely failed to intervene.

It was a bloody reminder of the deteriorating security in the Arab world's most populous country as instability continues nearly a year after former President Hosni Mubarak was swept out of power in a popular uprising.

The melee -- which followed an Egyptian league match between Al-Masry, the home team in the Mediterranean city, and Al-Ahly, based in Cairo and one of Egypt's most popular teams -- was the worst case of soccer violence in Egypt and the deadliest worldwide since 1996. One player said it was "like a war".

Al-Ahly goalkeeper Sharif Ikrami, who was injured in the melee, told the private station ONTV that dead and wounded were being carried into the changing room.

"There were people dying in front of us," he said. "It's over. We've all made a decision that we won't play soccer any more.

"How will we play soccer after 70 people died? We can't think about it."

Mohammed Abu Trika, a player with Al-Ahly, criticised police for standing by.

"People here are dying and no one is doing a thing. It's like a war," he told the team TV station. "Is life this cheap?"

Hesham Sheiha, a health ministry official, said most of the deaths were caused by concussion, deep head wounds and suffocation from the stampede. He said 40 people were undergoing surgery.

In Cairo, fans angered that another match between Al-Ismaili and Zamalek was halted because of the Port Said violence set fire to the stands at the main stadium. No injuries were reported.

The clashes and ensuing stampede did not appear to be directly linked to the political turmoil in Egypt, but the violence raised fresh concerns about the ability of the state police to manage crowds.

Most of the hundreds of black-uniformed police with helmets and shields stood in lines and did nothing as soccer fans chased each other, some wielding sharp objects and others hurling sticks and rocks.

Security officials said the ministry had issued directives for its staff not to "engage" with civilians after recent clashes between police and protesters in November left more than 40 people dead.

The violence also underscored the role of soccer fans in Egypt's recent protest movement. Organised fans, in groups known as ultras, have played an important role in the revolution and rallies against military rule.

hnews@herald.ie

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