19 dead in Egypt football violence between police and fans

Egyptian Zamalek fans trying to enter a football match outside a Cairo stadium were blocked by a police barricade on Feb 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: EPA
Egyptian Zamalek fans trying to enter a football match outside a Cairo stadium were blocked by a police barricade on Feb 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: EPA

CAIRO (AFP) - Egyptian authorities said Monday that 19 people had been killed in a crush at a Cairo stadium, lowering an earlier toll and saying none of the victims had been killed by police.

Officials said the victims were crushed as thousands of fans tried to force their way into a Cairo football stadium to watch a game. “Nineteen people died,” interior ministry spokesman Hani Abdel Latif told AFP, revising an earlier death toll of 22 given by prosecutors.

Thousands of fans without tickets scaled stadium walls in bid to catch Sunday’s match, with clashes erupting as police fired tear gas and birdshot at the crowd. Abdel Latif said 22 policemen were injured in the clashes and 18 people were arrested.

Khaled al-Khatib, the head of Egypt’s emergency services, confirmed the death toll. “The deaths were caused due to a stampede. There are no signs of gunshot or birdshot,” Khatib said. “The victims had lots of bruises, while some had broken necks... People were trampling each other.”

The interior ministry had restricted to 10,000 the number of spectators allowed into the stadium and tickets quickly ran out.

Thousands of fans without tickets scaled the stadium walls before police dispersed them, according to the ministry. 
Zamalek supporters aimed fireworks at the police, who fired tear gas and birdshot back, police and witnesses said.
"There was a police car on fire and they were shooting birdshot and tear gas," a witness told AFP.
Another witness, Mostafa Ibrahim, told AFP: "Police fired tear gas at a large number of fans in a very narrow place. People were trampling over one another trying to escape."

After a preliminary exam, 19 of the dead were found to have no gunshot wounds, according to a health ministry official. Injuries were consistent with being crushed in a stampede, and some of the dead had broken necks.

An AFP correspondent outside the morgue saw coroner reports handed out saying two of those killed died of "extreme pressure to the chest".

Many of those injured suffered broken bones and bruising, the health ministry said according to state news agency MENA.

Zamalek defence player Omar Gaber has been suspended for refusing to play in the match in protest at the violence, a statement from his club said.

LEAGUE SUSPENDED

The government accused the football fans of starting the clashes with police, leading to the deaths.

"Because of these sad events it has been decided to postpone the league to a time that will be decided later," it said in a statement.

Outside a Cairo morgue where the bodies were taken, dozens of relatives wept and wailed while others pored over a list of the dead, trying to identify loved ones.

"The youths are supposed to be building this country and the police are killing them," one man shouted. Others scuffled with morgue security men who were blocking their access.

Morgue officials later placed a computer outside showing pictures of the dead men for relatives to identify.

The state prosecutor ordered an investigation into the clashes, a statement from his office said. The statement said the fans had blocked a road leading to the stadium and torched three police vehicles.

Sunday's deaths could inflame football fans, who have repeatedly clashed with police over the past few years and can mobilise thousands of youths.

After the deadly 2012 football riots in Port Said following a game between Cairo's Al-Ahly and Al-Masry, a court handed out death sentences to 21 people before an appeals court ordered a retrial that is yet to conclude.

The riots took place under a military regime that had taken charge after a popular uprising, in which football fans played a key role, ousted veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak.

The fans have continued to be a volatile force in the troubled country. Hundreds of Cairo Al-Ahly fans confronted police in deadly clashes in the capital following the Port Said riots.