A protester in Cairo throws a teargas canister back towards police lines as football fans clash with security forces following the deaths of 74 people in the Port Said stadium disaster. Photograph: Suhaib Salem/Reuters
A day of rage following Egypt’s worst football violence in decades spilled over into clashes between police and hardcore fans determined to avenge the deaths of 74 people in Wednesday’s disaster.
Angry crowds converged at sunset on the northern end of Cairo’s Tahrir Square to attack riot police and the interior ministry, which they accuse of being complicit in the violence at the stadium in the Mediterranean city of Port Said that besides the dead left at least 500 people wounded.
In the city of Suez, a health official said police shot dead two people after 3,000 demonstrated in front of police headquarters. Police responded with teargas and then opened fire, witnesses said. Fifteen other protesters were wounded, the official said.
The size of the Port Said casualty toll, and the manner in which the victims were killed or injured, has fast taken on a potent political dimension, with some of the victims and Port Said residents claiming that the violence was started by provocateurs in some way connected with the state.
Trouble began at full time when a group of supporters from the Al Masri home club stormed through open gates leading onto the pitch, first chasing players from the losing Al Ahly team of Cairo, and then their supporters, many of whom were crushed against closed exit gates.
The lack of security and the response as events went swirling out of control caused heated debate in the newly-elected parliament, and led some MPs to claim that security officials had helped instigate the violence.
Egypt’s military rulers were quick to characterise “football hooliganism” as being the origin, and to downplay any suggestion that it had been in some way due to officials set on avenging the football fans’ role in the revolution which toppled the former president, Hosni Mubarak.
The parliament accepted the resignation of Port Said’s civilian governor and the region’s security chief. It also pledged to look into the allegation that security was lax before and during the game, which was between two teams known to be arch rivals and whose fans had clashed before.
The Egyptian Football Association was also sacked en masse, as was the security team responsible for the Port Said stadium. Some MPs blamed the interior minister, Mohammed Yousef, for allowing lapses and they gave him one week to restructure the ministry.
Others suggested that the ministry, whose officers have been at the forefront of clashes with activists, many of them football fans from both clubs, may have had a direct role.
A core group of militant fans from the clubs, as well as form other prominent teams, have been in the fore of clashes with officials, mainly riot police, during November and December in Tahrir Square, the place where the revolution started in January 2011.
Known as ultras, the fans were on Thursday again battling officials in Cairo streets leading to the interior ministry. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. The interior ministry called on “honourable citizens” to avoid chaos, a plea ignored by crowds at Tahrir Square in numbers not seen for six weeks. The health ministry said 250 people had been admitted to hospital by early evening, most from tear gas or fractures.
Earlier, in Port Said, crowds marched through the city claiming that it was not the regular fans of the Al Masri club who had started the violence.
Morgue officials in the city said that most of the dead had been killed by blows, falls or being crushed, and not by bullets, for example. TV footage of the riot showed men on the pitch with clubs and poles, which are banned from football grounds.
Islam Saeed, a member of the Al Ahly ultras, said nobody had attempted to control the crowd as it grew ever more restive as Wednesday’s game progressed.
“Hundreds would storm the pitch after every goal, so we could sense what was going to happen,” he said. “There was a huge lapse in security. The police non-intervention was very strange, there was practically no security outside the stadium, and inside it they didn’t do anything when events escalated.
“This was gross security incompetence, coupled with the barbarity of some supporters. This has been happening for the past five years, but security always intervened. They didn’t this time. If you allow this to happen, then you are liable for the deaths.”
Members of the Cairo-based ultras vowed to hold Egypt’s military rulers, the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces, accountable for the deaths, and said they were planning a series of rolling demonstrations across the country for the rest of the week.
Egypt’s previous worst football incident was in 1974, when 49 people were trampled to death at a match in Cairo.