herald

Wednesday 13 December 2017

'This is not football, this is war'

Horror and outrage as over 70 killed in Egypt

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was left "shocked and saddened" after violent clashes in Egypt last night left more than 70 people dead.

The Egyptian Football Federation have announced an indefinite suspension of all leagues in the country following the trouble in Port Said, when rival fans invaded the pitch and fought after Al-Masry recorded a surprise 3-1 win over Al-Ahly.

Blatter issued a statement to express his sympathy for the families of the victims.

"My thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their lives this evening," the statement said. "This is a black day for football. Such a catastrophic situation is unimaginable and should not happen."

Fans of Al-Masry, a team based in Port Said at the northern end of the Suez Canal, invaded the pitch celebrating the team's home win over Al-Ahly, the Cairo-based club that is Egypt's biggest and most successful, and attacked other fans amid what seemed to be a total absence of police.

Players fled to their changing rooms, from where the Al-Ahly team called their in-house television channel to give eyewitness accounts and denounce the lack of security.



Fire

Meanwhile, the Cairo International Stadium, which Al-Ahly shares with its local rivals Zamalek, was briefly set on fire after the evening game there was cancelled as a mark of respect.

The Al-Ahly team were earlier shown arriving in Port Said in a convoy of police trucks. Egyptian teams have devoted fanbases, known as Ultras in imitation of their European equivalents, and fans involved in last night's violence have a history of bad blood. The Ultras have also played a role at the forefront of pro-democracy protests. Activists were already speculating last night that some of the thugs regularly hired by supporters of the old Mubarak regime might have been involved in the violence.

"The events in Port Said are planned and are a message from the remnants of the former regime," said Essam el-Erian, the vice-president of the Freedom and Justice Party.

Last night's trouble began immediately after the game when fans stormed on to the pitch, chasing the Al-Ahly players and the visiting fans.



Crushed

An official from a local hospital said most of the dead had been crushed or suffocated. "There are 11 deaths at my hospital," Medhat El-Esnawy, the manager of Port Said's El-Amiry hospital said. "Two other hospitals have 25 deaths. Three fans have also died in the stadium."

However, some of the dead, who included ground security staff, are thought to have suffered stab wounds. There were 1,000 injuries.

Television commentators wept on air, one screaming that the sport was not worth what had happened. The Al-Ahly channel put one of the club's veteran players, Mohamed Abou-Treika, live on air from the changing rooms.

"The security forces left us, they did not protect us," he said. "One fan has just died in the dressing room in front of me.

"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."

Another, Mohamed Barakat, said: "It is our fault because we played that match. The authorities are afraid to cancel the league because they just care about money."

The country's parliament was set to hold an emergency session today, while the Egyptian Football Association, said the Premier League was being suspended.

By then, several of the Al-Ahly team vowed never to play again.

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