Egyptians incensed by the deaths of 74 people in soccer violence clashed with security forces on Thursday during protests against the army-led government for failing to prevent the deadliest incident since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.
Security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators near the headquarters of the Interior Ministry in Cairo, prompting hundreds to flee. “Down down with military rule,” they chanted, many holding aloft pictures of those killed, according to Reuters.
As many as 682 people have been injured during the clashes, Al Arabiya reported citing the Egyptian Health Ministry.
State media reported scuffles between members of the security forces and demonstrators who included hardcore soccer fans known for confronting the police and who were on the frontlines of protests against the state in the last year.
A field hospital has been set up and all of the injuries appeared to be from tear gas, Egypt’s al-Masry al-Youm reported.
The scene is reminiscent of other clashes between protesters and security forces in November and December, with protesters forming human chains to ensure that ambulances carrying the injured to the field hospital can get through the crowds. Motorcycles are being used to transport the injured.
The clashes are taking place on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, the scene of a fierce five-day-long battle last November. At the time, the military built a large concrete wall to block protesters.
Earlier, a Reuters witness saw a dozen masked youths remove a barbed wire barrier blocking one route to the Interior Ministry and then throwing stones at riot police standing guard.
The clashes began after thousands of people, many of them hardcore football fans known as Ultras, marched from al- Ahly Club in Zamalek into downtown Cairo to protest the violence at a football match in Port Said on Wednesday, according to the report carried out by al-Masry al-Youm. The march broke into two smaller parts when it reached Tahrir Square, with one headed for the Interior Ministry and the other aiming for the nearby People’s Assembly building.
Upon arrival to Tahrir Square, some tried to convince the march not to head to the Interior Ministry in order to avoid bloodshed. Some ultras insisted on heading to the ministry and a few attempted to bring down the wall erected in November on Mohamed Mahmoud Street.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that security forces were protecting the building after protesters cut the wire barricades and climbed over concrete walls in an attempt to reach the building.
As tear gas canisters flew, witnesses saw unconscious people being ferried away from the area on motorbikes and ambulances raced to the scene.
The incident at the stadium in Port Said on Wednesday night was Egypt’s worst ever soccer disaster. Bodies were unloaded from a train at Cairo’s main train station, covered by blankets.
Mohamed Abdel Hamid, who was injured on Wednesday violence, accused the police of conspiring with those who attacked al-Ahly fans to punish the ultras for criticizing Field Marshal Tantawi. “They left us to be slaughtered and didn't do anything,” he was quoted as saying by al-Masry al-Youm.
At least 1,000 people were injured in the violence when soccer fans invaded the pitch after local team al-Masry beat Cairo-based al-Ahly, the most successful club in Africa.
Hundreds of al-Masry supporters surged across the pitch to the visitors’ end and panicked Ahly fans dashed for the exit. But the steel doors were bolted shut and dozens were crushed to death in the stampede, witnesses said.
The incident has triggered fresh criticism of the ruling military council, which has pledged to hand power to an elected president by the end of June. The head of the council said any attempts to cause instability would not succeed.
In the newly-elected parliament, MPs including the Islamists who control some 70 percent of the chamber demanded the government be held to account during an emergency session attended by Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri.
Addressing angry lawmakers, Ganzouri said senior security chiefs in Port Said and the city’s governor had been suspended and the soccer federation’s board had been sacked. But he disappointed those seeking tougher steps, such as firing the interior minister.
Some MPs echoed the suspicion of many Egyptians that the incident was the work of remnants of the Mubarak administration trying to derail reform.
The MPs voted to launch an investigation into what happened and lodge a formal complaint with the military against Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, accusing him of negligence.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, headed by Mubarak’s long-time defense minister, vowed to track down the culprits and declared three days of national mourning.
“Egypt will be stable. We have a roadmap to transfer power to elected civilians. If anyone is plotting instability in Egypt they will not succeed,” Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council, told al-Ahly’s TV channel.
Tantawi voiced deep regret over the incident and offered condolences to the families of the victims.
In Egypt’s second city of Alexandria, thousands echoed their cry.
The post-match pitch invasion provoked panic among the crowd as rival fans fought. Most of the deaths were among people who were trampled in the crush of the panicking crowd or who fell or were thrown from terraces, witnesses and health workers said.
Some saw the violence as orchestrated to target the “Ultras”, al-Ahly fans whose experience confronting police at soccer matches was turned with devastating effect against Mubarak’s heavy-handed security forces in the uprising.
They played a significant role in defending Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the heart of the uprising against Mubarak, when men on camels and horses charged protesters last year. Thursday is the anniversary of the Feb. 2 camel charge.
The two soccer teams, al-Masry and Al Ahly, have a history of fierce rivalry. Witnesses said fighting began after Ahly fans unfurled banners insulting Port Said and one descended to the pitch carrying an iron bar at the end of the match.
Television footage showed fans running onto the field and chasing al-Ahly players. A small group of riot police formed a corridor to protect the players, but they appeared overwhelmed and fans were still able to kick and punch players as they fled.
Interior Minister Ibrahim said 47 people were arrested.
Egypt's football federation said it was indefinitely postponing matches in the premier league. Al-Ahly club suspended all sports activities and declared three days of mourning.