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January 27, 2013

Egyptians riot after soccer fans sentenced to die

CAIRO — Relatives and angry young men rampaged through the Egyptian city of Port Said yesterday in assaults that killed at least 27 people following death sentences for local fans involved in the country’s worst bout of soccer violence.

Unrest surrounding the second anniversary of Egypt’s revolution also broke out in Cairo and other cities for a third day, with protesters clashing for hours with riot police who fired tear gas that encompassed swaths of the capital’s downtown.

The divisive verdict and bloodshed highlight challenges being faced by President Mohammed Morsi, who took office seven months ago following an Egyptian revolution that ousted autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak. Critics say Morsi has failed to carry out promised reforms in the country’s judiciary and police force, and claim little has improved in the two years after the uprising against Mubarak.

The Islamist leader, Egypt’s first freely elected and civilian president, met for the first time with top generals as part of the newly formed National Defense Council to discuss the deployment of troops in two cities. The military was deployed to Port Said hours after the verdict was announced, and warned that a curfew could be declared in areas of unrest. The military was also deployed to the canal city of Suez, where protesters attacked the main security compound there after eight people were killed late Friday.

Saturday’s riot in Port Said stemmed from animosity between police and die-hard soccer fans know as Ultras, who also were part of the mass uprising against Mubarak that began on Jan. 25, 2011, and at forefront of protests against the military rulers who assumed temporary power after his ouster.

It also reflected tensions after the uprising that reached into all sectors of Egyptian life, even sports.

Survivors and witnesses said Mubarak loyalists had a hand in instigating last year’s attack, which began Feb. 1 after Port Said’s home team Al-Masry won a match, 3-1, against Cairo’s Al-Ahly.

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