More than 70 killed in Egypt's worst football disaster

Bel Trew, Thursday 2 Feb 2012

Ultras groups call for mass marches on Thursday in protest at the behaviour of security forces during Masry-Ahly league match, which saw 70 Ahly fans and one policeman killed in the bloodiest event in Egypt's football history

Port Said riots
Police react as chaos erupts at a soccer stadium in Port Said city, Egypt, February 1, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

Thousands gathered at Ramses train station, downtown Cairo, in the early hours of Thursday morning to meet beleaguered Ahly fans coming back from Masry-Ahly league match following Egypt’s worst football disaster.

Agonised by the death of 70 of their fellow supporters in the coastal city, the Ahly supporters marched to Ramses Station from their headquarters shouting slogans against the military council and the Central Security Forces (CSF). The marchers were joined by Zamalek football fan club, the Ultras White Knights.

“Police are the thugs” and “Down, down with the military rule” were among the chants repeated by the heartbroken young fans as they congregated by the platforms. One fan waved the large flags of Egypt, Ahly and Ultras White Knights (UWK) together.

On Wednesday afternoon thousands of Masry fans stormed the pitch immediately after the final whistle, chasing Ahly players and technical staff members, who ran for their lives.

The People’s Assembly will convene an emergency session Thursday morning to discuss the melee, with many pro-democracy activists calling on them to demand an immediate transfer of power from the military junta to a civilian authority.

Ahmed Gaffar (@Heemalization on Twitter) was inside the stadium and described what happened. “Police opened the way for hordes of Masry fans to reach us… when Ahly fans tried to run away they found exits which are normally open at the end of the match were locked.” The fans found themselves stuck in a corridor “6 x 10 metres in size” crushing many.

When the gates, he said, collapsed the ensuing stampede resulted in more deaths. The security forces, Gaffar added, only started firing shots to disperse the Masry fans “20 minutes after the incident” when deaths had already occurred.

Many in Ramses Station blamed the reduced presence of the Egyptian security forces, who usually protect the football players and separate the fan groups, for the massacre. The UWK burnt banners and CSF trucks at the Cairo International Stadium on Wednesday in protest of the police reaction.

Heated discussions took place by the railway tracks at Ramses station about the behaviour of the security forces, with some saying it conspiracy by the state to stir up national unrest in order to justify heavy-handed security tactics by the ruling military council.

“The police deliberately absented themselves from this match to increase the violence,” says Mahmoud Hani, 21, who lost friends in the clashes.  “It is clear that the fight was arranged and the security forces participated in this, to take the spotlight away from the revolution. The state needs people to be focused on something else.”

Tens of people waiting for the return of the Ahly supporters gathered around television screens in the train station cafeteria as the names of those confirmed dead were read out. As the news filtered in of the fans who had lost their lives, family members and friends broke down in tears inside and outside the station.

“Me and my friends from the Ahly fans are extremely upset,” said Adul Zenzi, 19, an Ultras White Knight club member whose friend was killed in the fight, “Karim was only 19 years old, he was still at school, we don’t know how he died. We heard people were being killed from being beaten with sticks, or having to jump out of the stadium.” 

Abdul was also missing another friend Ahmed Ezet, 21, a business university student in Cairo. Abdul and his friends had come to the train station to see if he had made it back. “We don’t know where our friend is,” he added, “We blame the Central Security Forces for not separating the fans and for standing by doing nothing.”

The army reportedly sent helicopters to Port Said to rescue the football team members, whilst planes were flown into Cairo carrying 25 injured fans. The youngest fatality is said to be just 13 years old. Field Marshall Tantawi, the head of the ruling military council, received the injured at the airport, further angering the fans.

As the train arrived from Port Said at 3.30am, approximately 30 fans jumped on top of the vehicle demanding the execution of Tantawi. Most of the fans alighting at Ramses were injured, including head and leg wounds. Soon after groups marched through downtown Cairo, chanting against the ruling military council.

There have been calls for mass marches tomorrow to the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defence starting at 4pm, in protest of the lack of security surrounding the match. Thousands are expected to participate.

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