Egypt: Soccer riot dead remembered with 3 days of national mourning

Egypt has declared three days of national mourning after at least 74 fans and security personnel were killed in a soccer riot in Port Said yesterday. Several hundred people were injured in what is being called the worst soccer-related violence in Egypt's history.

Parliament called an emergency session this morning to discuss the incident, Egyptian news site Al Ahram reported, while soccer supporters are planning mass rallies in Cairo later today to protest what they claim was a lack of security at the match.

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Supporters of Cairo's Al Ahly club, which played home side Al Masry in the Port Said stadium before the riot broke out, were greeted by thousands of relatives, friends and fellow fans as they returned to the capital this morning. Some of the crowd reportedly chanted "Police are the thugs" and "Down, down with military rule."

Security forces have been accused of failing to stop, or even deliberately provoking the violence.

Al Ahram cited the account of Ahmed Ghaffar, an Ahly fan who claims to have been present at the riot:

"'Police opened the way for hordes of Masry fans to reach us… when Ahly fans tried to run away they found exits which are normally open at the end of the match were locked.' The fans found themselves stuck in a corridor '6 by 10 metres in size,' crushing many.

"When the gates, he said, collapsed the ensuing stampede resulted in more deaths. The security forces, Gaffar added, only started firing shots to disperse the Masry fans '20 minutes after the incident' when deaths had already occurred."

According to the BBC, the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest party in Egypt's parliament, blamed supporters of former president Hosni Mubarak, who it accused of seeking to create chaos in order to justify continued military rule.

"The events in Port Said are planned and are a message from the remnants of the former regime," Muslim Brotherhood lawmaker Essam al-Erian said.

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Others speculated that security forces had an interest in provoking the Ahly fans, who have emerged as a powerful force in Egypt's uprising. Hardened supporters known as "ultras" were on the front line of early protests in Tahrir Square last year, Middle East football expert James M. Dorsey explains on his blog, and are united in a "deep-seated hatred" of the police and paramilitary forces.

Writing for Foreign Policy, Dorsey did not necessarily agree with "conspiracy theorists" on what caused the Port Said riot – but nonetheless described it as a watershed moment that would "have important and wide-ranging political ramifications, further isolate militant, highly politicized, violence-prone fan groups, single out the police for renewed criticism, and strengthen calls for the imposition of law and order."

The riot has already prompted Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri to dissolve the Egyptian Soccer Federation's board and refer its members for questioning by prosecutors, the Associated Press reported. Ganzouri said the governor of Port Said province and the regional police chief have resigned.

According to the Interior Ministry, 47 people were arrested in connection with the riot.

Egypt's ruling military council has declared nationwide mourning until sunset on Saturday, and says a commission will be established to investigate the incident.

All soccer league matches have been postponed indefinitely.

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