Egypt soccer protests grip restive Suez Canal city

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A work stoppage was enforced by thousands of soccer fans on Sunday in Egypt’s restive city of Port Said demanding justice for dozens of people killed in clashes with police.

Demonstrators also shut down schools and banks and blocked a main railway route, but their protests did not impact traffic through the strategic Suez Canal, a canal official said.

In February 2012, 74 people, mostly supporters of the Cairo al-Ahly club, were killed in a football riot in Port Said.

Egypt’s president Mohammed Mursi had declared a state of emergency and 30-day curfew in Port Said and two other Suez Canal provinces following a wave of violence that left more than 50 people dead last month. The state of emergency is still in effect, although residents have ignored the curfew.

Home fans were held to blame, with Al-Ahly supporters pledging civil disobedience in Cairo if the court acquitted the Port Said residents.

The continuing turbulence in Port Said, which last month was virtually in revolt against Mursi’s government and the emergency measures, is another fresh sign of Egypt’s deepening malaise. The government is struggling to impose order as discontent widens beyond the capital, Cairo, as social and economic problems mount.

Mursi is also facing an increasingly vocal political opposition which complains that he and his Islamist backers in the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s strongest political force, are attempting to monopolize power and have adopted practices similar to longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.

Last month’s violence in Port Said was set off when a court convicted and sentenced 21 people to death for involvement in a mass soccer riot in the city’s main stadium on Feb. 1, 2012 that left 74 dead. Most of those killed in the melee were visiting fans of Cairo’s Al-Ahly team.

The verdict enraged people in Port Said, where the majority of the condemned were local soccer fans, many of whom claim innocence. The ensuing security crackdown deepened a sense of persecution that residents have harbored since the stadium disaster, the worst soccer violence ever to hit Egypt.

As part of the Sunday protest, members of the “Green Eagles” fan club, supporters of Port Said’s Al-Masry team, also disrupted the city’s main telephone exchange and sent students home from several schools.

Several hundreds of protesters marched through the Mediterranean city at the mouth of the Suez Canal, chanting against the government and raising pictures of those killed in the violence.

“The city’s revolt comes because of a deep sense of injustice,” a statement by the Green Eagles said, according to the Associated Press. The group said the verdict exonerated state institutions - including the interior ministry and the military - which it said should be held responsible for failing to prevent the massacre.