At least 22 people died in a rampage by protesters angry at the sentencing of 21 people to death over a soccer stadium disaster, amid a wave of bloody unrest posing a challenge for Egypt’s new Islamist rulers.
Armored vehicles and military police were deployed on the streets of Port Said after the violence in the Mediterranean city yesterday. The state news agency quoted a general as saying the military was sent to “establish calm and stability in Port Said and to protect public institutions.”
The latest deaths brought to at least 25 the number reported killed in three days of violence. Hundreds have been injured in clashes in which police have rained down tear gas on protesters armed with stones and Molotov cocktails.
The unrest began with rallies to mark the second anniversary of the overthrow of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in a revolution which the protesters accuse Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and his Islamist allies of betraying.
The schism is hindering efforts by Morsi, elected in June last year, to revive an economy in crisis and reverse a plunge in Egypt’s currency. The polarization and lack of security that has blighted Egypt casts a shadow over a parliamentary election expected to start in April this year.
Morsi’s opponents say he has failed to deliver on economic promises or to be a president for all Egyptians, as he pledged. His backers say his critics do not respect the democracy that has given Egypt its first freely elected leader.
Nine people were reported killed in Friday’s violence, most in the port city of Suez, where the army has also been deployed.
Yesterday’s violence in Port Said erupted when a court sentenced 21 men, most from the city, to death for involvement in the disaster in the city’s soccer stadium which killed 74 people on Feb. 1 last year.
Many spectators were crushed and witnesses saw some thrown off balconies after the match between Cairo’s Al Ahly and local team al-Masri. Many of those killed were from the visiting team’s supporters.
Families of victims in court cheered and wept for joy when Judge Sobhy Abdel Maguid read a list of 21 names “referred to the Mufti,” a phrase used to denote execution, as all death sentences must be reviewed by Egypt’s top religious authority.
A total of 73 people have been standing trial. Other rulings will be issued on March 9, the judge said.
One relative of a victim in the court shouted: “God is greatest.”
Outside Al Ahly club in Cairo, supporters also cheered. Fans had threatened fresh violence unless the death penalty was meted out.
However, in Port Said residents rampaged through the streets in anger that men from their city had been blamed. Gunshots were reported near the prison where most are being held.
The director of Port Said Hospitals said 22 people were killed and 200 wounded, state TV reported. Security sources said at least two of the dead were policemen.
Thousands took to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other cities on Friday to protest against what they call the authoritarianism of Morsi’s rule.