Egypt football violence leaves many dead in Port Said

BBC's Jon Leyne: "There has been plenty of violence at Egyptian football games before"

At least 74 people have been killed in clashes between rival fans following a football match in the Egyptian city of Port Said.

Scores were injured as fans - reportedly armed with knives - invaded the pitch after a match between top-tier clubs al-Masry and al-Ahly.

Officials fear the death toll could rise further.

It is the biggest disaster in the country's football history, said the Egyptian deputy health minister.

"This is unfortunate and deeply saddening," Hesham Sheiha told state television.

Some of the dead were security officers, the Associated Press news agency quoted a morgue official as saying.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of Egypt's ruling army council, went to a airbase near Cairo to welcome back al-Ahly players who were flown back from Port Said on a military aircraft.

Analysis

Football fans in Egypt can be violent, and certainly there is a bitter rivalry between these two teams.

The al-Ahly fans, known as Ultras, have a particular reputation for violence.

But lately they have been at the forefront of clashes with the police.

On the social media, there has been speculation - and I hasten to add there is no evidence - that the security forces may have had an interest in taking on al-Ahly supporters.

Certainly riot police did not seem to be very effective, they were standing around, but maybe there simply were not enough there.

"This will not bring Egypt down... These incidents happen anywhere in the world. We will not let those behind it go," he said, AP reports.

A statement posted on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' Facebook page announced three days of national mourning, beginning on Thursday.

The statement also promised a full investigation into the incident.

'Black day'

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says it appears some fans had taken knives into the stadium.

Our correspondent says the lack of the usual level of security in the stadium might have contributed to the clashes.

Police in Egypt have been keeping a much lower profile since last year's popular protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak from power.

Egyptian fans are notoriously violent, says our correspondent, particularly supporters of al-Ahly known as the Ultras.

They have been heavily implicated in confronting the police during recent political protests, our correspondent adds. There is speculation that the security forces may have had an interest in taking on al-Ahly supporters.

Wednesday's violence broke out at the end of the match, which, unusually, Port Said side al-Masry won 3-1.

Major football stadium disasters

  • May 1964: 318 people killed in riots during a Peru-Argentina match at the National Stadium in Lima
  • June 68: More than 70 people die in a gate stampede after a River Plate-Boca Juniors match in Buenos Aires
  • Jan 71: 66 people killed in a crush after a Rangers-Celtic derby in Glasgow, Scotland
  • Feb 74: 49 people trampled to death at a match in Cairo
  • Oct 82: More than 300 reportedly killed in a stampede on a narrow, icy staircase at a Spartak-Haarlem match in Moscow
  • May 85: 56 people die in a terrace fire during a Bradford City-Lincoln City match in Bradford, England
  • May 85: 39 people are killed when a separation wall collapses at a Liverpool-Juventus European Champions Cup final at Heysel Stadium in Brussels
  • March 88: 93 people die in a stampede after fleeing a hailstorm at the national stadium in Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Apr 89: 96 people are crushed to death at a Liverpool-Nottingham Forest cup match in Sheffield
  • Jan 91: At least 40 people die in a stampede after riots at a friendly match in Orkney, South Africa
  • Oct 96: About 80 people are killed in a stampede before a Guatemala-Costa Rica World Cup qualifying match in Guatemala City
  • Apr 01: More than 40 people killed in a crush at the overcrowded Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa

Witnesses said the atmosphere had been tense throughout the match - since an al-Ahly fan raised a banner insulting supporters of the home team.

As the match ended, their fans flooded onto the pitch attacking Ahly players and fans.

A small group of riot police tried to protect the players, but were overwhelmed.

Part of the stadium was set on fire.

'Rage in their eyes'

Officials say most of the deaths were caused by concussions, deep cuts to the heads and suffocation from the stampede.

"This is not football. This is a war and people are dying in front of us," al-Ahly player Mohamed Abo Treika said.

Hani Seddik, who played for al-Ahly as a teenager, told the BBC: "I don't think this is about football. These trouble-makers were not football fans."

"How were they allowed to carry knives into the ground? To me, this is the actions of people who do not want the country to be stable and want to put off tourists from coming here," said Mr Seddik, who was watching the match on TV in Cairo.

One al-Ahly fan in Cairo told the BBC that a large march from al-Ahly club to the Interior Ministry is being planned for tomorrow.

"People are angry at the regime more than anything else... People are really angry, you could see the rage in their eyes," Mohammed Abdel Hamid said.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood - which has emerged as Egypt's biggest party in recent elections - blamed supporters of ousted President Hosni Mubarak for the violence.

"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.

He went on by saying that the army and police wanted to silence critics demanding an end to state of emergency in the country.

Hani Seddik, former al-Ahly player: "I think it's more like some people were planning it"

In Cairo, another match was halted by the referee after news of the Port Said violence. It prompted fans to set parts of the stadium on fire.

All premier-league matches have been cancelled and the newly-elected Egyptian parliament is to hold an emergency session on Thursday.

Fifa President Sepp Blatter issued a statement, expressing his shock over the incident.

"This is a black day for football. Such a catastrophic situation is unimaginable and should not happen," he said.

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