Street battle rages near Egypt’s interior ministry

A demonstrator and an army officer were reported dead in Cairo and in the city of Suez two people were killed as police used live rounds to hold back crowds trying to break into a police station and fought in front of the state security headquarters, witnesses and the ambulance authority said.

Most of those killed in the Port Said football stadium on Wednesday night were crushed in a stampede and the government declared three days of mourning, but protesters hold the military-led authorities responsible.

“We will stay until we get our rights. Did you see what happened in Port Said?” said 22-year-old Abu Hanafy, who arrived from work on Thursday evening and decided to join the protest.

The ministry in Cairo, an object of hatred for football fans who say lax policing was to blame for the stadium disaster, was still hemmed in by the street battles on Friday, though the ranks of protesters had thinned since Thursday night.

A Reuters witness heard firing and found gun pellets on the ground. A hard core of demonstrators had heaved aside a concrete barrier blocking a main road near the ministry overnight to get closer to the building.

“We pulled it down with our bare hands,” said Abdul-Ghani Mohamed, a 32-year-old construction worker. “We are the sons of the pharaohs.”

Ambulances had to intervene overnight to extract riot police whose truck took a wrong turn into a street full of protesters.

Protesters surrounded the vehicle for at least 45 minutes, rocking it while the police were inside. Some of the demonstrators then formed a corridor to help them escape.

Twenty-eight youth activist groups and political parties called for mass protests on what was called the “Friday of Anger”. A few hundred people, some of them protesters who had camped out overnight, held midday prayers in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square.

DESTRUCTION IN SUEZ

Close to 400 people have been hurt in the confrontations since Thursday, the health ministry said, many of them by inhaling tear gas fired by riot police protecting the interior ministry.

An army lieutenant was killed by a security vehicle that ran over him by mistake, the newspaper al-Masry al-Youm quoted the health ministry as saying.

Rocks thrown by protesters were strewn across streets that two months ago witnessed violent clashes between police and activists who see the interior ministry as an unreformed vestige of Hosni Mubarak’s rule.

Hardcore football fans known as Ultras, who often clash with the police and were at the forefront of the popular uprising against Mubarak one year ago, vowed to continue their protests.

“The crimes committed against the revolutionary forces will not stop the revolution or scare the revolutionaries,” said a pamphlet printed in the name of the Ultras.

In Suez, witnesses said fighting broke out at a local police station in the early hours of Friday. “We received two corpses of protesters shot dead by live ammunition,” said a doctor at a morgue.

Many shops in Suez were wrecked and the facade of the Suez Canal Bank was destroyed.

Police had cordoned off the Suez state security headquarters and a Justice Ministry compound with razor wire and seven burned-out vehicles lay nearby. Roads were strewn with glass.

The soccer stadium deaths have heaped new criticism on the military council that has governed Egypt since Mubarak stepped down. Critics regard the generals as part of his administration and an obstacle to change.

The army leadership, in turn, has presented itself as the guardian of the “January 25 revolution” and promised to hand power to an elected president by the end of June.

INTERIOR MINISTER BLAMES FANS

Health officials said at least 1,000 people were hurt in Port Said when fans invaded the pitch after local team al-Masry beat Cairo’s Al Ahli, Africa’s most successful club.

Hundreds of al-Masry supporters surged across the pitch to the visitors’ end and panicked Ahli fans dashed for the exit. But the steel doors were bolted shut and dozens were crushed to death in the stampede, witnesses said.

The cause of the violence has been the focus of intense speculation. Some believe it was triggered by unknown provocateurs working for remnants of the Mubarak administration who are seeking to sabotage the transition to democracy.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said the fans started it by insulting and provoking each other.

Ibrahim was widely blamed for the deaths during an emergency parliamentary session on Thursday. MPs including the Islamists who control some 70 percent of the chamber called for him to be held to account and accused him of negligence.

Safwat Zayat, an analyst, said the incident had done further damage to the image of the ruling military council. “The current events push in the direction of speeding up the transfer of power to civilians,” Zayat said.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/03/us-egypt-protest-idUSTRE81203T20120203

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