Embattled Egyptian Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim yesterday said his police force has been strained by daily protests, clashes and harsh media criticism, but dismissed a strike by policemen as minor.
He warned against what he called plots to cause the disintegration of the force, saying he would not allow vigilante groups to replace the police.
Near daily clashes between police battling protesters denouncing Islamist Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi killed at least 10 people last week in different parts of Egypt.
Hundreds of police officers went on strike over complaints about working conditions and allegations that the country’s Islamist-led government is trying to infuse the force with supporters, dragging it into the country’s highly polarized politics.
Ibrahim appealed yesterday for all parties to leave the police out of the political tug-of-war.
On Saturday protesters torched buildings in Cairo and tried unsuccessfully to disrupt international shipping on the Suez Canal after a court ruling on a deadly soccer riot.
The ruling enraged residents of Port Said, at the northern entrance of the Suez Canal, by confirming the death sentences imposed on 21 local soccer fans for their role in the riot last year, when more than 70 people were killed.
However, the court also angered rival fans in Cairo by acquitting a further 28 defendants whom they wanted punished, including seven members of the police force.
Security sources said two people, a man in his 30s and a young boy, had died in Cairo from the effects of tear gas and rubber bullets. A total of 65 people were injured.
In a statement the presidency condemned the violence. The Cabinet issued a similar statement and called on Egyptians to unite and respect court rulings.
On Thursday, Egypt’s election committee scrapped a timetable under which voting for the lower house of parliament should have begun next month, following a court ruling that threw the entire polling process into confusion.
The stadium riot took place last year at the end of a match in Port Said between the local side al-Masry and Cairo’s al-Ahly team. Spectators were crushed when panicked crowds tried to escape from the stadium after a pitch invasion by al-Masry supporters. Others fell or were thrown from terraces.
Judge Sobhy Abdel Maguid, listing the names of the 21 al-Masry fans, said the Cairo court had confirmed “the death penalty by hanging.”
He also sentenced five more people to life imprisonment while others out of a total of 73 defendants received shorter terms.