Police fired tear gas and birdshot at protesters on Saturday in the third day of deadly clashes in Cairo, as anger at Egypt’s ruling military boiled over after 74 people died in football-related violence.
The police responded after dozens of protesters threw stones at officers guarding the interior ministry headquarters hundreds of metres from the capital’s iconic Tahrir Square.
By noon, as some protesters tried to intervene between their colleagues and the police, sporadic stone throwing continued in central Cairo, which the violence has turned into a rock-strewn battlefield.
In the canal city of Suez, two people died in clashes overnight from birdshot wounds, medics said. Hospital officials said nine people have been killed in Cairo and Suez since the violence erupted.
Five people were also wounded in overnight clashes outside police headquarters in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, state media reported.
Marchers had taken to the streets on Friday across the country to demand that Egypt’s ruling generals cede power immediately after a night of violence in several cities.
The health ministry said 2 532 people have been injured in the violence, in a statement published by the official MENA news agency on Saturday.
A reporter for the state-owned Nile News television station was wounded in the eye by birdshot, the channel reported.
The interior ministry said 211 policemen were wounded in the violence, including a general who lost an eye. It said 16 conscripts were wounded by birdshot.
Protesters, many of them organised supporters of Cairo’s main football clubs known as the Ultras, held up a huge banner to the police that read: “Those who didn’t deserve to die have died at the hands of those who don’t deserve to live.”
Many of the dead in Wednesday’s football riot in the northern city of Port Said were thought to have been Al-Ahly supporters, set upon by partisans of the local Al-Masry side after the Cairo team lost 3-1.
The Ultras played a prominent role among anti-regime elements in the uprising that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak a year ago, and commentators and citizens have suggested pro-Mubarak forces were behind the massacre, or at least complicit.
In the ongoing aftermath, rocks and stones flew in all directions on Friday as police vans in Cairo repeatedly charged the demonstrators before retreating.
At one point, police clubbed protesters just metres away from the interior ministry.
Across the street, a building housing the Tax Authority burned, state television reported.
In a sign of increased insecurity, gunmen carrying automatic weapons stormed a police station in east Cairo, freeing detainees before torching it.
And in the Dokki neighbourhood, a group of men attacked a police station, taking weapons from the building.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) blamed the unrest on “foreign and domestic hands targeting the country.”
In a statement on Facebook, it urged “all political and national forces of this great nation to take a national and historic role and intervene… to return stability”.
Wednesday’s clashes between fans of Port Said team Al-Masry and Cairo’s Al-Ahly marked one of the deadliest incidents in football history, and came amid claims by witnesses the security forces did little to prevent it.
After the final whistle, victorious Al-Masry fans invaded the pitch, throwing rocks, bottles and fireworks at Al-Ahly supporters, causing panic as players and fans fled in all directions, witnesses said.
‘It is a failure’
On Friday, the prosecutor general slapped a travel ban on the head of the Egyptian Football Association Samir Zaher — a day after he was sacked — and on ex-Port Said governor Mohammed Abdullah, who resigned after the clashes.
“This happened under the military council whose ousting the people are demanding, and who has proved that it is a failure,” he said.
Egyptians have become increasingly angry with the junta, which they accuse of failing to manage the country and of human rights abuses.
For months, they have taken to the streets to demand the ouster of the SCAF and its chief, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who was Mubarak’s defence minister for two decades.
The SCAF has pledged to cede full powers to civilian rule when a president is elected by the end of June, but its opponents believe it intends to hold on to power behind the scenes after a transfer to civilian rule.
In the Sinai, the brief abduction on Friday of two US tourists and their guide by masked gunmen dealt a new blow to Egypt’s already hard-hit tourism sector, despite their release unharmed several hours later.
The kidnappers intercepted their tour bus on its way from the historic St Catherine’s monastery to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, security officials said. — AFP