EU seeks probe into Egypt football tragedy

03.02.12 @ 09:36

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - EU leaders are calling for an independent probe to find out why and how knife-wielding fans overwhelmed stadium security following a football match in Port Said, Egypt on Wednesday (1 February).

  • The Port Said football brawl sparked protests in Cairo reminiscent of last year's revolution (Photo: Nasser Nouri)

More than 70 were killed and around a thousand injured during the brawl.

"I hope an immediate and independent investigation will shed light on the causes of this tragic event," said EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton in a statement.

The commissioner responsible for education, Androulla Vassiliou added: "As with all sports, football can give rise to intense passions, but the events we have seen at the stadium are completely unacceptable."

Wednesday's tragedy sparked protests in Cairo on Thursday, as thousands marched towards the interior ministry. Demonstrators shouted slogans against police and the country's military rulers.

Egyptian authorities have so far arrested 53 people linked to the violence. Egypt's prime minister Kamal al-Ganzouri held an emergency session of parliament and sacked the head of the country's football association. Port Said's governor also resigned as the army deployed troops into the city to restore calm.

Meanwhile, a three-day period of national mourning has been declared and games in all four Egyptian football divisions have been suspended for an indefinite period.

In the streets of Cairo, protestors have once again faced tear gas reminiscent of the scenes that initiated the downfall of former president Hosni Mubarak. Some of the football fans erected metal barriers to close Tahrir Square and parked vehicles to block traffic on Thursday.

The day marks the one-year anniversary when men, hired by the former dictator, stormed the square on camel- and horse-back.

Unconfirmed press reports claim the football riots may have started when Mubarak supporters entered the stadium with iron bars and knives. Others claim the police, who allegedly did little to stop it, encouraged the violence. One policeman officer was among the dead, however.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which last month won 47 percent of the seats in parliament, lays the blame squarely on pockets of hard-core Mubarak supporters.

"The events in Port Said are planned and are a message from the remnants of the former regime," Essam el-Erian, now vice-president of the Brotherhood-backed Freedom and Justice Party and an MP, told The Telegraph newspaper.

The bloodshed could cast a shadow over EU attempts to encourage a peaceful transition. Last December, neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele and development commissioner Andris Pieblags announced plans to increase development aid by €6.2 billion for Arab countries having overthrown their autocratic leaders.

Fuele called the extra funding "an answer to the revolutionary movements to the south of the European Union ... to ensure the success of the transformation process and to improve social and economic development."