Thursday, October 18, 2012

Revolutionary Football

Algeria on Monday condemned an angry protest held outside its Tripoli embassy by hundreds of Libyan football fans after Algeria kicked their team out of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

"We deplore the incident that took place at the Algerian chancellery in Tripoli, following the football match between our national team and its Libyan counterpart," foreign ministry spokesman Amar Belani said, quoted by national news agency APS.

The embassy was surrounded by more than 300 Libyans on Sunday who ripped down the Algerian emblem, APS reported, after their team lost 2-0 away to Algeria and failed to qualify for next year's tournament in South Africa.

Arabic-language daily Ennahar said the Libyan fans also shouted hostile slogans and burned an Algerian flag.

The protest lasted for more than three hours without the intervention of the Libyan security forces, the APS report added, citing a diplomatic source.

"We hope that the appropriate measures are taken, conforming to international conventions, to ensure the protection of our diplomatic and consular missions in this brotherly country," Belani said.

At the stadium in Blida, south of Algiers, where the match took place, more than a 100 people were injured in violence, 15 of whom were taken to hospital, including seven policemen, Algerian security sources said.

Independent daily El-Watan blamed the unrest on stadium officials for selling too many tickets and on youths under the influence of drugs, saying 30 people were taken to hospital, some of whom had been attacked with knives. –AFP

Egypt delays league games indefinitely


More on the Port Said tragedy:

The Egyptian Football Federation on Tuesday delayed domestic league games indefinitely because police have not given assurances they can secure matches.

The federation's deputy chairman Hassan Farid told The Associated Press that the Interior Ministry has not guaranteed it can safeguard the games, which were scheduled to start in August. The season was delayed several times over the past two months due to protests by die-hard fans and issues related to corporate sponsorships.

Fans are demanding justice for 74 people killed in February when supporters of Al-Masry, in the Mediterranean city of Port Said, stormed the pitch and bleachers where Cairo's Al-Ahly team players and fans were positioned. Stadium lights were shut off and doors barred shut during the melee, causing a suffocating stampede. Witnesses said they saw Al-Ahly fans being thrown off bleachers, stabbed and undressed.

Local rights groups say security forces stood by to punish fans of Egypt's most popular team, Al-Ahly, for their high-profile involvement in protests against the former regime and the transitional military rule. Among 73 people who have been charged in the incident are nine senior police officers.

The so-called Ultra supporters of Al-Ahly team have since rallied outside stadiums where friendly cup matches were played without spectators, demanding that those charged are found guilty. They have also stormed the federation's offices in September, firing flares at the building, smashing cars belonging to employees and walking away with trophies to denounce a decision that the league would start in October.

The supporters have also held large-scale marches in Cairo and painted murals of those killed along a major downtown street.

Federation head Gamal Allam said the Interior Ministry has not provided a written confirmation it can protect league matches.

Ahmed Megahid, a board member of the football federation, said it is ''not responsible for the environment surrounding the matches'' and that security must be provided by the Interior Ministry.

''We will not play based on a verbal vow,'' he told the AP. ''We require a written letter from the Interior Ministry with its approval for the start of the league.''

Police shot and killed two protesters in Suez, Egypt, early Friday, a health official said, the first to die in clashes that erupted around the country after a riot at a soccer stadium killed 74, as sports violence spiraled into a new political crisis for Egypt.

Protesters blame police for failing to control the riot after the soccer game in Port Said. In Cairo, thousands demonstrated Thursday in front of the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police. Demonstrators threw rocks, and police responded with clouds of tear gas. Hundreds were treated by medics.

Football violence rears its ugly head in EgyptHere's a look at the tragedy from the soccer stadium in Port Said.

In Suez, witnesses said about 3,000 people demonstrated in front of police headquarters after news spread that one of the victims in the Port Said riot was from their city.

Police responded with tear gas and then opened fire, witnesses said. Health official Mohammed Lasheen said two men were killed by bullets. Fifteen other protesters were wounded, he said.

The deaths of 74 people Wednesday night in a post-match stadium riot in the Mediterranean city of Port Said fueled anger at Egypt's ruling military and the already widely distrusted police forces. Many in the public and in the newly elected parliament blamed the leadership for letting it happen - whether from a lack of control or, as some alleged, on purpose.

Survivors of the riot described a nightmarish scene in the stadium. Police stood by doing nothing, they said, as fans of the winning home team, Al-Masry, attacked supporters of the top Cairo club, Al-Ahly, stabbing them and throwing them off bleachers.

A narrow exit corridor turned into a death trap as crowds of fans fled into it, only to be crushed against a locked gate as their rivals attacked them from behind.

A network of zealous Al-Ahly soccer fans known as Ultras vowed vengeance, accusing the police of intentionally letting rivals attack them because they have been among the most aggressive of Egypt's revolutionaries. Ultras were at the forefront of the anti-government uprising - first against toppled leader Hosni Mubarak a year ago and now against the military that took his place in power.

''Either they will die or we will die,'' one Ultra said, referring to the police, as he joined a march by some 10,000 people on the Cairo headquarters of the Interior Ministry, which oversees the security forces. He would only give his first name, Islam, for fear of reprisal by police.

The march turned into a call for the ruling military council of generals, led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, to surrender power.

''Say it out loud, the council must leave!'' the marchers chanted, shouting to people in residential buildings along the way. ''Get down from your balconies, Tantawi killed your children!''

The military has faced protests for months led by secular and liberal youth groups demanding an end to its rule - and the soccer riot added to criticism that the generals have mismanaged the transition from Mubarak's rule. Opponents accuse the generals of being as autocratic as the ousted president and of preserving much of his regime. They say elements in the police and former regime figures have been working behind the scenes to undermine the revolution and prevent real change.

''We dreamed of change. They fooled us and brought us a field marshal instead,'' protesters chanted Thursday as they reached the Interior Ministry, near Tahrir Square. Some called for the execution of the military rulers. Many raised flags of the Al-Ahly club and Zamalek, another top Cairo team with its own group of Ultras.

The crowds approached the ministry from multiple sides. Some tried to dismantle walls of large concrete blocks that had been erected on streets leading to the ministry after November clashes. Others tore away barbed wire barriers.

Protesters hurled stones at lines of riot police, who responded with heavy barrages of tear gas that sent the crowd scattering, some passing out and falling. Protesters set tires on fire, sending up black smoke as motorcyclists ferried away the injured. One young man who climbed atop a traffic light waving a flag was unmoved even as he was engulfed in a cloud of gas.

''We are just across the street from the ministry,'' said one protester, Taha Mahfouz, wearing a helmet and waving a club that he had taken from riot police. ''They can't protect their own stuff. How can they protect the country?''

The Health Ministry said 388 protesters were injured, most overcome by gas.

In an emergency session of parliament, several lawmakers said the police failure to stop the rioting was intentional, aimed at stoking insecurity since Mubarak's ouster on Feb. 11, 2011. The aim, they said, was to create instability to justify maintaining strict emergency laws.

''This is a complete crime,'' said Abbas Mekhimar, head of parliament's defense committee. ''This is part of the scenario of fueling chaos against Egypt.''

More on the Port Said tragedy:

Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri told parliament he had dissolved the Egyptian Soccer Federation's board and referred its members for questioning by prosecutors about the violence. He also said the governor of Port Said province and the area's police chief have resigned.

Tantawi told reporters Wednesday that the country's transition will not be derailed by the violence.
''Egypt is going down the path we planned,'' he said. ''We will continue down this path and we will get through this transition.''

Security officials said 47 people were arrested in Port Said. Ismail el-Iskandarani, a researcher with the private group Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights who was in Port Said, said 17 of the dead remain unidentified and at least three of those killed were residents of Port Said, and not Al-Ahly sports fans.
The soccer violence - the world's deadliest in 15 years - began when Al-Masry pulled out a surprise 3-1 victory over Al-Ahly, Egypt's most powerful club. Al-Masry fans stormed the field, rushing past lines of police to attack Al-Ahly's Ultras.

''I saw death with my own eyes. I saw people take their last breath,'' said Samir Saad, a 27-year old Al-Ahly fan who was stabbed in the leg as he fled into the stands. ''The security opened the doors for Al-Masry fans and closed (them) in our face.''

Others reported Al-Ahly fans being thrown from the stands or jumping to escape. Some said Al-Masry supporters carved the words ''Port Said'' into the bodies of stricken fans.

Authorities shut off the stadium lights, plunging it into darkness. In the exit corridor, the fleeing crowd pressed against a chained gate until it broke open.

''Everyone was pushing. Under me were more than three people and I am being pushed. Everyone is pushing trying to breathe,'' said Mahmoud Ibrahim, who was trapped in the corridor. He spoke at Cairo's main morgue where many of the dead were taken, including two of his friends.

There was bad blood between the two teams even before the match, and many were itching for a fight. Early in the game, Ultras raised a banner reading, ''Port Said is a garbage city and has no men,'' before it was quickly taken down.

Ultras accused police of failing to do the usual searches for weapons, and witnesses reported fans in the Al-Masry stands had clubs and knives. El-Iskandarani, the rights worker investigating the violence, said witnesses reported that some of those carrying knives were known locally as thugs-for-hire.

Pedro Barny, a Portuguese assistant to Al-Ahly coach Manuel Jose, complained of a lack of security as the tensions mounted during the game.

''The atmosphere was very aggressive. It was very intimidating for our team,'' Barny told Radiotelevisao Portuguesa. ''There were opposition fans walking up and down unchallenged in front of our bench during the game and the police did nothing.''

He said there was a charge across pitch toward the Al-Ahly fans that collided with the players and coaches. ''I ran and ran to get away from it.''

He said he was punched and kicked as he sprinted for the tunnel.

The Ultras are among Egypt's rowdiest fans and are proud of their hatred for the police, who were the backbone of Mubarak's authoritarian rule. During matches, they are known for their obscenity-laced anti-police songs and chants, which usually go viral on the Internet, an expression of the hatred many Egyptians feel toward the security forces.

The network is highly organized across the country, but they were long apolitical, resenting the police for friction at soccer matches. When the uprising began, the Ultras used their years of experience in clashing with police at stadiums to help defend protesters against attacks by security forces and regime supporters.

After Mubarak's fall, they joined protests against the military, and in November and December, they fought back against troops cracking down on demonstrations in clashes that left dozens dead. Ironically, the revolution has united the Ultra backers of the Al-Ahly and Zamalek clubs, the country's most bitter soccer rivalry.

Ahmad Saqqar, a 22-year-old Ultra wearing a red Al-Ahly shirt, said the Ultras are ''all about resisting police suppression.''

''The military plotted yesterday to take revenge on us,'' he said. ''We know how to respond ... after we recover from our wounds.''

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