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Egypt deploys troops to Suez to quell 'out of control' clashes

CNN
Saturday, January 26, 2013 - 4:44pm

Egypt exploded in turmoil this weekend with at least 30 people killed in clashes over an unpopular court verdict Saturday following a day of politically charged violence throughout the country.

The clashes in the northeastern city of Port Said came after a judge sentenced 21 people to death for their roles in a football game riot last year.

Angry relatives of those convicted clashed with security forces outside the prison, leaving at least 30 dead and more than 300 wounded, the head of Port Said hospitals told state-run Nile TV. Two police officers were among the dead, he said.

About 90 miles south of Port Said, in the gulf city of Suez, the government deployed troops Saturday to quell clashes that erupted a day earlier on the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

The clashes between anti-government protesters and those loyal to President Mohamed Morsy prompted the head of provincial security to declare the region "out of control."

Brig. Gen. Adel Refat requested armed forces to intervene after he said police were fired upon, state-run EGYNews reported. Protesters accused Egyptian forces of opening fire during the demonstrations, a claim Refat strongly denied.

By Saturday morning, according to official Egyptian news agencies, armored military vehicles were deployed throughout Suez, a city of about 500,000 on the northern tip of the Gulf of Suez.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, clashes extended to areas around the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament. Protesters overnight were in a standoff outside the Nile TV offices, with some tossing Molotov cocktails and police responding with tear gas.

Friday saw clashes in Ismalia, just north of Suez on the Suez Canal, where protesters torched the main office of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, state TV reported.

Saturday's events came as Morsy met with his defense council over how to calm the unrest. Prime Minister Hesham Kandil vowed to hold perpetrators accountable, according to state-run MENA.

The Suez Canal Authority said navigation was not affected by the Port Said clashes and that the canal's northern entrance was secure, according to state media.

Nationwide, more than 450 protesters and nearly 100 members of security forces were hurt in demonstrations that marked the two-year anniversary of the Mubarak uprising.

The weekend unrest in Egypt is the latest in violent demonstrations that have targeted Morsy. Before he came to power he led the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that was banned under Mubarak.

The protests erupted late last year when Morsy issued an unpopular edict allowing him to run the country unchecked until the drafting of a new constitution. Morsy said the powers were necessary and temporary, but they sat uncomfortably with many Egyptians, who said it reminded them of Mubarak's rule.

Morsy rescinded the ruling after thousands came out to protest, but the demonstrations have continued.

The fatal clashes in Port Said started after some of the defendants' relatives attempted to storm the prison to free their loved ones, Brig. Gen. Osama Ismail, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told state-run Nile TV.

The armed forces sent troops to secure public buildings in Port Said and restore calm, according to state media.

The football game riot broke out a year ago after Port Said-based Al-Masry defeated Cairo's Al-Ahly. About 22,000 people were inside the stadium, including about 2,000 Al-Ahly fans, authorities said.

Fans from both sides bashed each other with rocks and chairs. Many of those who died fell from the bleachers during the melee inside the stadium, while others suffocated.

It was unclear whether intense sports rivalries or political strife sparked the riots, though witnesses said tension was building through the game with Port Said fans throwing bottles and rocks at the Cairo players.

Minutes after Saturday's ruling -- which the Port Said provincial court had to issue in Cairo because of security concerns -- victims' relatives praised the verdict.

"Justice has been served," said one man who was crying. "My oldest son was killed -- 37 years old, married with two kids. I am so happy -- the whole family will celebrate today."

"I finally felt that I am in a civilized country!" an emotional woman said. "My son (did) nothing wrong! But my son's legacy will live on because of the true justice served here."
 

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