Soccer fans, troops clash; 1 dead

Updated: March 24, 2012, 11:59 PM ET
Associated Press

CAIRO -- Egyptian soldiers and police clashed with thousands of angry soccer fans in a Suez Canal city over the suspension of their club after a deadly riot last month, witnesses said Saturday. A medical official said a teenager was killed.

The Feb. 1 riot in the city of Port Said in which at least 73 people died was the world's worst soccer-related disaster in 15 years. The causes remain murky. Officers have been charged with assisting Port Said soccer fans to attack Cairo club supporters who had a long history of enmity with the police, and some port residents have claimed that hired outsiders were responsible for much of the killing.

In the latest clashes, Egyptian troops fired volleys of tear gas and shot into the air to disperse protesters affiliated with Port Said's Al-Masry club, angry for what they see as unfair measures against their club and their city. Violence erupted late Friday and continued until early Saturday.

Witnesses said protesters set fire to tires, blocked major roads and then gathered in front of the Suez Canal's main administrative building in an attempt to storm it. Soldiers and police cordoned off the building.

The official said teenager Belal Mamdouh was killed with a gunshot to the back while 25 were injured, mostly because of breathing difficulties from tear gas. He spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The clashes erupted after the Egyptian Football Association on Friday officially suspended Al-Masry for two seasons ending 2013, and closed its stadium for three years as punishment for the stadium riot.

Protesters also denounced what they described as a media campaign against their club. Hours before the protests broke out, one famous sports presenter, a former soccer goalkeeper, said that the measures were not enough.

The Feb. 1 riot began minutes after the final whistle in a league match between Cairo club Al-Ahly, the most popular in Egypt, and Port Said's Al-Masry. The home side won 3-1, but fans were upset for what they said were obscene signs raised by Al-Ahly club fans.

Survivors of the stadium riot say men wielding batons, knives, and fireworks streamed from Al-Masry stands and stormed the field to attack Al-Ahly fans, stabbing them, undressing them and tossing them off bleachers while the police looked on.

Egypt's general prosecutor charged 75 people, including nine senior police officers, with assisting the attackers. The officers, along with several Al-Masry officials, allegedly knew in advance that the home fans planned to attack Al-Ahly supporters, yet they were allowed to enter the grounds without being searched for weapons as is customary in soccer matches.

The policemen also allegedly allowed 3,000 more people into the stadium than the maximum number authorized to attend the game.

The prosecution said that many of them were criminals known to the local police.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press