Video: Pitch invasion leads to killings
A PITCH invasion and riots have caused the massacre of 74 people, with thousands injured, in an Egyptian football stadium.
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 amid what seemed to be an almost total absence of police.
Players fled to their changing rooms, from where the Al-Ahly team called their in-house television channel to give eye witness accounts and denounce the lack of security.
The Health Ministry said that 74 people had been killed, including a police officer. 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 country's new cabinet scheduled an emergency meeting for Thursday to discuss the situation while troops were deployed to Port Said to keep the peace on the streets.
The violence is a telling sign of the lack of security in Egypt following last year's revolution. That was in part triggered by outrage at unchecked brutality by police, and one of the Mubarak regime's first responses was to call them off the streets and put the army in charge of protests.
But since then it has proved difficult to persuade even beat policemen to return. As a sign of the sport's nervousness, the Al-Ahly team was earlier shown arriving in Port Said in a convoy of police trucks. Egyptian teams have devoted fan bases known as Ultras in imitation of their European equivalents, and the two sets of fans involved in last night's violence have a history of bad blood and have fought before.
The Ultras have also played a political 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 last major incident in Egypt took place before and after a World Cup play-off game with Algeria, Egypt's greatest rivals, when fans stoned the visiting team's bus, causing a major diplomatic incident.
The trouble began at the end of the game, which Al-Masry won 3-1. State television showed dramatic scenes of fans storming on to the pitch, chasing the Al-Ahly players and, as they escaped, the visiting fans.
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.
Commentators on the main football programme wept on air, one screaming at the camera that the sport was not worth what had happened, while the former player analysts sat with their heads in their hands. 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. This is horrible situation and today can never be forgotten."
Another, Mohamed Barakat, a midfielder, said: “It is our fault because we played that match. The authorities are afraid to cancel the league because they just care about money, they do not care about the lives of people.”
The fire at the Cairo stadium was blamed on an electrical short circuit. However, television pictures clearly showed fireworks being shot from the stands in protest after the announcement that the game between Zamalek and Ismaily was being called off.
The country's newly elected parliament will hold an emergency session on Thursday, while Samir Faher, head of the Egyptian Football Association, announced the Premier League was being suspended. By then, the two main clubs in Egypt's second city Alexandria, Ittihad and Smouha, had already announced they were withdrawing from the league, while several of the Al-Ahly team vowed never to play again.