Egyptian police fired tear gas Thursday at thousands of demonstrators outside the Interior Ministry protesting the security forces' failure to prevent a soccer riot that killed more than 70 people.
Anger has been building as the public and lawmakers blamed the country's military rulers for the bloodshed, the latest to signal rapidly deteriorating security in the country since Hosni Mubarak's fall nearly a year ago.
The protests started as a peaceful march by Egyptians angry over the police inaction from the headquarters of Al-Ahly, one of Egypt's most popular soccer clubs, to the area outside the ministry building near Tahrir Square, the epicentre of last year's popular uprising that ousted Mubarak.
Security forces guarding the area were separated from the more than 10,000 protesters by concrete blocs and barbed wire, but tensions rose as protesters advanced toward them, cursing and removing some of the barriers. They also raised their shoes in the air and hurled stones. Police responded with heavy tear gas, sending demonstrators running, with some passing out a
Some tried to move big concrete blocs erected around the ministry since November, when clashes between the police and protesters then left more than 40 people dead.
In scenes reminiscent of those clashes, protesters set tires on fire, sending black smoke in the air. Motorcycle drivers ferried some of those wounded from the site as ambulances were unable to get through. Egyptian state TV said 100 people had passed out from the tear gas.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement the protesters had cut the barbed wire, and crossed over the concrete blocs to reach the roads leading to the headquarters. It urged the protesters "to listen to the sound of wisdom ... at these critical moments" to prevent the spread of chaos.
Wednesday's riot at the stadium in Port Said erupted when Al-Masry fans stormed the field following a rare 3-1 win against Al-Ahly, one of Egypt's most popular clubs, but the violence went beyond the deep sports rivalry between the teams.
A network of rabid soccer fans known as Ultras vowed vengeance, accusing the police of intentionally letting rivals attack them because they have been at the forefront of protests over the past year, first against Mubarak and now the military.
Many members of die-hard soccer fans who were among the protesters vowed to storm the ministry.
"Either they (police) will die or we will die," said Islam, a member of the Ultras, said. "We are willing to die for the blood of martyrs."
He declined to give his last name because of the volatility of the situation.
Port Said governor, area police chief resign
Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri, in an emergency parliamentary session, announced he has dissolved the Egyptian Soccer Federation's board and referred its members for questioning by prosecutors about the violence. He also said the governor of Port Said province and the area's police chief have resigned.
Several lawmakers said the lapse was intentional, aimed at stoking the country's insecurity since the Feb. 11 fall of former leader Hosni Mubarak.
In an emergency session, Parliament Speaker Saad el-Katatni, of the Muslim Brotherhood, accused security authorities of hesitating to act, putting "the revolution in danger."
"This is a complete crime," said Abbas Mekhimar, head of parliament's defense committee. "This is part of the scenario of fueling chaos against Egypt."
The riot at the stadium in Port Said erupted Wednesday when fans of the local team, Al-Masry, stormed the field following a rare 3-1 win against Al-Ahly.
Al-Masry supporters, armed with knives, sticks and stones, chased Al-Ahly players and fans, who ran toward the exits and up the stands to escape, according to witnesses.
Lines of riot police in the stadium largely did nothing to intervene, witnesses said. At one point, the stadium lights went out, plunging it into darkness. At the time, the TV sportscaster announcing the match said authorities shut them off to "calm the situation."
"We were surprised the police let them in that easy. The numbers were huge," said Ahmed Ghaffar, one of the visiting Al-Ahly fans at the stadium.
Left 'to kill each other'
As many Al-Ahly fans crowded into the corridor leading out of the stadium, they were trapped, with the doors at the other end locked.
"Layers of people" were "stuck over each other because there was no other exit," Ghaffar tweeted on Thursday. "We were between two choices, either death coming from behind us, or the closed doors."
He said Al-Masry fans beat Al-Ahly fans who fell on the floor.
Mahmoud Ibrahim, 22, a survivor who on Thursday was at a Cairo morgue where two of his dead friends were taken, said that after the lights went out, people were left "to kill each other."
The Interior Ministry said 74 people died, including one police officer, and 248 were injured, 14 of them police. A local health official initially said 1,000 people were injured and it was not clear how severely. Security forces arrested 47 people for involvement in the violence, the statement said.