CAIRO – Egyptian protesters set fire to a police social club and attempted to block the Suez Canal on Saturday after a court upheld death sentences for 21 soccer fans and acquitted seven police officers accused in a deadly stadium riot last year.
Demonstrations in Port Said and Cairo marked the latest escalation in monthslong unrest and civil disobedience aimed at bringing down President Mohamed Morsi’s Islamist-led government. The rage came amid a widening security vacuum spurred by a nationwide police strike.
The Port Said court case has been a parallel drama to the country’s broader political turmoil. A judge affirmed the death penalties for hooligans there accused of killing 74 visiting Cairo fans after a match in early 2012. The court also sentenced the city’s former security chief, Maj. Gen. Essam Samak, and a police colonel to 15 years in prison.
Seven lower-ranking officers and 21 Port Said fans were acquitted, infuriating Cairo’s hard-core soccer club members, known as Ultras, who had blamed security forces for instigating the bloodshed.
Ultras quickly set fire to a police social club in Cairo as well as a soccer federation building along the Nile, sending plumes of smoke across the capital’s skyline.
One protester died of tear gas inhalation as police battled demonstrators near tourist hotels in downtown Cairo. Egyptian news reports said a man and an 8-year-old boy were killed by birdshot in the same area.
In Port Said, families of the accused were shocked by the upholding of the death sentences. They marched toward the Suez Canal, temporarily blocking ferries and unmooring speedboats in an effort to disrupt shipping lanes. The Egyptian military guided the drifting vessels back toward shore and officials said the vital commercial waterway was not affected.