Egypt condemns street violence

 

Egypt's National Defence Council, headed by president Mohamed Mursi, has condemned street violence and called for a broad national dialogue to resolve political differences.

Information minister Salah Abdel Maqsoud, who attended the meeting with Mr Mursi and other ministers including the defence minister who is a general in charge of the army, said in a televised address the council could consider declaring a state of emergency or a curfew in areas of violence if needed.

At least 39 people have been killed in violence in the Egyptian city of Port Said today over a court ruling and across the nation during yesterday's anti-Mursi protests.

Two football players are among those killed in the Port Said riots, the area’s director of hospitals said. They died after protesters took to the street angry that people from their city had be blamed for a soccer disaster. More than 200 people were also injured, state television reported, citing the health ministry.

A court ruled today that 21 people, mostly from the city, were sentenced to death for their role in the stadium disaster in Port Said that killed 74 people.

Armoured vehicles and military police were deployed on the streets of the Mediterranean city. The state news agency quoted a general as saying the military was sent to "establish calm and stability in Port Said and to protect public institutions".

The unrest began with rallies to mark the second anniversary of the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in a revolution which the protesters accuse current President Mohamed Morsi and his Islamist allies of betraying.

The schism is hindering efforts by Mr Morsi, elected in June, to revive an economy in crisis and reverse a plunge in Egypt's currency by enticing back investors and tourists.

Nine people were killed in yesterday's violence, most in the port city of Suez, where the army has also been deployed.

Today's violence in Port Said erupted when a court sentenced 21 men, most of them from the city, to death for involvement in the disaster in the city's soccer stadium on February 1st, 2012.

Many spectators were crushed and witnesses saw some thrown off balconies after the match between Cairo's Al Ahly and local team al-Masri. Many of those killed were from the visiting team's supporters.

Families of victims in court cheered and wept for joy when Judge Sobhy Abdel Maguid read a list of 21 names "referred to the Mufti", a phrase used to denote execution, as all death sentences must be reviewed by Egypt's top religious authority.

A total of 73 people have been standing trial. Other rulings will be issued on March 9th, the judge said.

One relative of a victim in the court shouted: "God is greatest." Outside Al Ahly club in Cairo, supporters also cheered. Fans had threatened fresh violence unless the death penalty was meted out.

But in Port Said residents rampaged through the streets in anger that people from their city had been blamed. Gunshots were reported near the prison where most of the convicted men are being held.

One security source reported 11 killed in the violence, while two other sources put Saturday's toll at 12. At least two of the dead were policemen.

A witness said some men stormed a police station.

Thousands took to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other cities yesterday to protest against what they call the authoritarianism of Mr Morsi's rule.

"We want to change the president and the government. We are tired of this regime. Nothing has changed," said Mahmoud Suleiman (22), in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the cauldron of the 2011 revolt. Nearby, youths hurled stones at police early today.

"The protests will continue until we realise all the demands of the revolution - bread, freedom and social justice," said Ahmed Salama (28), a protester camped out with dozens of others in Tahrir.

Mr Morsi's supporters say their critics are ignoring democratic principles, after elections swept the Islamists to office.

In a statement in response to Friday's violence, Mursi said the state would not hesitate in "pursuing the criminals and delivering them to justice". He urged Egyptians to respect the principles of the revolution by expressing views peacefully.

The president was due to meet later today with the National Defence Council, which includes senior ministers and security officials, to discuss the violence.

Unrest has been stoked by Mr Morsi's decision to fast-track an Islamist-tinged constitution rejected by his opponents.

Inspired by the popular uprising in Tunisia, Egypt's revolution spurred further revolts across the Arab world. But the sense of common purpose that united Egyptians two years ago has given way to internal strife that triggered bloody street battles last month.

Reuters