3 dead as riots rock Egypt's Port Said for a second day

CAIRO (AFP) - Three people died and more than 400 were hurt in Egypt's Port Said on Sunday, as rioting sparked by death sentences passed on fans of a local football team rocked the canal city for a second straight day.

Crowds attempted to storm three police stations and others torched a social club belonging to the armed forces, looting items inside, security officials said.

The head of Port Said's hospitals, Dr Abdelrahman Farag said among the dead was a teenager shot in the chest. Another 433 people were injured in the rioting.

The violence comes a day after 31 people were killed in the Mediterranean city in clashes with police after a Cairo court handed down death sentences on 21 supporters of the local football club, Al-Masry. It also follows deadly protests in Cairo on Friday against President Mohamed Mursi on the second anniversary of Egypt's uprising, highlighting deep political divisions and longstanding tensions between police and protesters.

On a grim day in Port Said, bodies wrapped in white shrouds were carried in open coffins by a sea of mourners along the city's main avenue.

"Our city is being hit by the interior ministry!" and "Down with Brotherhood rule!" chanted the crowd, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood from which Mr Mursi draws his main support.

A brief burst of gunfire sent mourners running in several directions amid chaotic scenes, which later degenerated into rioting.

Unrest also erupted in nearby Suez, another canal city, where protesters surrounded a police station, lobbed molotov cocktails at security forces and blocked the road leading to the capital, security officials said.

In Cairo, overnight clashes on the outskirts of Tahrir Square - the symbolic heart of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011 - continued into late Sunday afternoon, with one bridge blocked off and the heavy smell of tear gas hanging in the air.

Demonstrators had during the night blocked the 6 October bridge, a vital flyover linking east and west Cairo, and burned cars as police clashed with masked protesters on the Nile corniche.

The United States and British embassies, which are located just minutes from Tahrir Square, closed their services to the public for the day.

Trouble flared on Saturday just minutes after the verdict in the trial of 2012 football riots in Port Said after a match between home side Al-Masry and Cairo's Al-Ahly that left 74 people dead.

Many Egyptians believe the deadly stadium violence was orchestrated either by police or by Mubarak supporters, and any verdict was likely to trigger a highly charged response.

Cairo football fans had threatened widespread chaos if justice was not served, and Port Said residents said the ruling was politically motivated.

"The government delivered a political ruling that sacrificed our children to avoid chaos," said Mr Ashraf Sayyed, a resident of the canal city. "Our children are the scapegoats used to restore calm in the rest of the country."

Soon after the sentences were passed, protesters in Port Said attacked police stations and set tyres alight. Relatives of those sentenced to death clashed with security forces as they tried to storm the prison where they are being held.

Medics told AFP all the fatalities were from gunfire.

The opposition, meanwhile, threatened to boycott upcoming parliamentary polls if Mr Mursi does not find a "comprehensive solution" to the unrest.

The National Salvation Front, the main coalition of parties and movements opposing the ruling Islamists, said it would "not participate" in the polls unless a "national salvation" government is formed.

Egypt's national defence council, which is headed by Mr Mursi, appealed for calm and called for a dialogue with "independent national figures" to agree on a mechanism for the polls.

Egypt's top cleric must ratify Saturday's verdicts, as is customary. The sentences are also subject to appeal. Verdicts will be announced on March 9 for another 52 defendants, including nine police officers.