Egypt Protesters Torch Soccer Headquarters Over Riot Ruling

Protesters in Cairo set fire to the headquarters of Egypt’s soccer federation and a police social club after a court acquitted most of the police officers charged over rioting by sports fans in Port Said. Clashes elsewhere in the capital left two dead.

Today’s blazes were shown on state-run Nile News after the Port Said court, sitting in Cairo for security reasons, allowed seven officers to go free. Fans of Cairo’s Al Ahly soccer team blame security forces and the soccer association for the February 2012 riot that killed more than 70 of the club’s supporters at a game in Port Said.

One protester died from tear-gas inhalation and another from gunshot wounds in clashes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Mohamed Sultan, head of the national ambulance service, said by phone from Cairo. Nineteen were injured, he said.

“The entire building has been torched,” Azmy Megahed, a spokesman for the Egyptian Football Association, said in an interview on Nile News. “Some people got 15 years. Others got the death sentence. What more do they want?”

Two officers were sentenced to 15-year terms, the state-run Middle East News Agency said. The court also upheld a January ruling that sentenced to death by hanging 21 fans of Port Said’s Al Masry Club. The case became a rallying point for youth that are dissatisfied with the reluctance of President Mohamed Mursi’s Islamist government to reform the police force. Graffiti popped up around Cairo in the days ahead of the ruling declaring “the Interior Ministry’s turn” on March 9.

Douse Flames

Helicopters scooped water from the Nile River to try to douse the flames at the EFA headquarters. Residents of Port Said, a city at the northern entrance to the Suez Canal, also organized marches in the city after the ruling, state-run MENA reported, saying the demonstrations were largely peaceful. Traffic through the Suez Canal was unaffected by the protests, Tarek Hassanein, spokesman for the Suez Canal Authority, said by phone.

Persistent unrest since the the court’s preliminary Jan. 26 ruling has pushed the spread on the Egypt’s dollar-denominated debt over similar-maturity U.S. Treasuries to the highest level in more than six months, rising 116 basis points, or 1.16 percentage point over that period, to 541 yesterday. That compares with a 21 basis-point advance for the Middle East average to 410, according to Bloomberg data.

The 1.8 percent decline suffered by the country’s benchmark EGX 30 Index of stocks this year ranks it the 10th worst-performer in the world among 93 gauges tracked by Bloomberg. The International Monetary Fund is yet to respond to the government’s invitation for a visit to finalize a $4.8 billion loan stalled since November amid the political stand-off between Mursi’s government and its secular opposition.

Gates Bolted

Last year’s riot started when hundreds of Al Masry fans attending their team’s match rushed across the field to the stands for supporters of the visiting Al Ahly club as police stood idle. More than 70 Al Ahly fans were killed as they tried to flee, only to find the gates bolted.

Of the 73 people on trial, 28 were acquitted, while the rest received prison terms from one year to life, Judge Sobhi Abdel Meguid said in remarks aired on state television.

Port Said has been gripped by clashes between protesters and police since the preliminary ruling in January. More than 30 people have died in the unrest, prompting President Mohamed Mursi to deploy the military and declare a state of emergency in the city along with two neighboring ones.

The city’s police turned over the security headquarters to the military yesterday after days of clashes with protesters centered around the building, the state-run Al Ahram newspaper reported today.

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