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No end to Egypt clashes, death toll climbs to 12

Cairo: Egyptian security forces on Saturday fired tear gas from armored trucks at protesters demanding an end to military rule, as anger over a deadly soccer riot fueled a third day of clashes that have killed at least 12 people.

The violence followed a melee and stampede after a soccer match Wednesday in the Mediterranean city of Port Said in which 74 people died in the world's worst soccer violence in 15 years. Protesters accuse the security forces of failing to prevent the bloodshed.

After two days of running street battles, clashes broke out again in downtown Cairo Saturday as protesters marched on the Interior Ministry. Security forces fired volleys of tear gas at rock-throwing protesters calling for the army to relinquish power and the execution of Egypt's military ruler. The ministry has been a frequent target for the protesters because it is responsible for the widely distrusted police.

 No end to Egypt clashes, death toll climbs to 12

Egyptian protesters are enveloped in tear gas fired by security forces during clashes. AP

Rights groups and several newly elected members of parliament have called on the country's military leader, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who served as President Hosni Mubarak's defense minister for 20 years and took power after Mubarak's ouster last February, to immediately transfer power to a civilian administration. Some are also calling on presidential elections to be held in April rather than June.

Some protesters Saturday urged for an end to the violence and called on people to leave the Interior Ministry area.

"If you love Egypt, return to the (Tahrir) square," chanted protesters along the side streets of the ministry on Saturday.

Police cordoned off several streets with lines of riot police and barbed wire, pushing protesters further back from the ministry.

In the port city of Suez, protesters set up cordons outside the police headquarters to ban people from protesting around it and keep the calm after three days of violence there.

On Friday, security forces in Suez opened fire on a crowd of several thousand outside the police headquarters. A total of seven people were killed, a police official said Saturday. Egypt's state-new agency MENA reported the victims ranged in age between 18 and 21 years, and that the most recent victim died of a gunshot wound Saturday that he sustained the previous day.

By Saturday morning, five protesters were also reported dead in Cairo after security forces used tear gas and birdshot to disperse thousands rallying outside the Interior Ministry the day before. The death toll was provided by the security official and a volunteer doctor.

Abdolheliem Mahmoud, the doctor at a field hospital in Tahrir Square, said the latest victims died Saturday from birdshot to the head or chest sustained in overnight clashes. Another protester was in critical condition, he said.

Field hospitals were set up in streets near the Interior Ministry to assist hundreds of cases of suffocation from tear gas inhalation on Friday.

The Health Ministry said Saturday that 2,500 people have been injured since the violence began on Thursday.

Also, a security officer died after an armored police vehicle ran him over in the mayhem outside the ministry Friday, the security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with police regulations.

The opposition April 6 movement said it and other youth groups were trying to broker a peace between security officers and protesters. In a statement Saturday, it called for the Cabinet's resignation and denounced the police for failing to protect people during the soccer violence.

"At the least, this shortcoming (in security) can be described as amounting to complicity," the group said.

In parliament, lawmakers on the national security committee held an emergency meeting to discuss the latest bout of violence. The state-run Al-Ahram newspaper reported that the committee proposed rebuilding a concrete wall in front of the Interior Ministry to prevent protesters from reaching the building and recommended asking parliament to authorize "shooting anyone who tries to encroach the wall."

The committee issued a statement denying the report.

There have been accusations that plainclothes officers took part in the soccer riot, and some have alleged that riot police intentionally allowed the melee in Port Said to happen to retaliate against die-hard soccer fans of the visiting team Al-Ahly, known as Ultras, who played a key role in clashes with security forces during the uprising that toppled Mubarak.

Lawmakers have accused the interior minister of "negligence."

The violence in Port Said began after home team Al-Masry pulled off a 3-1 upset win over Cairo's Al-Ahly, Egypt's most powerful club. Al-Masry fans stormed the field, rushing past lines of police to attack Al-Ahly fans.

Survivors have said police stood by doing nothing as Al-Masry fans attacked Al-Ahly supporters, stabbing them, undressing them and throwing them off bleachers. Others died from the stampede down a narrow corridor after the stadium's gate, which was locked from the outside, was forced open by the crowd.

Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri said he sacked the Egyptian Soccer Federation's board on Thursday and referred its members for questioning by prosecutors about the violence. To keep in line with international soccer federation guidelines, which do not give el-Ganzouri the right to dissolve the board, its eight members formally submitted their resignations on Saturday.

The country's leading religious figure, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb of Al-Azhar mosque canceled Saturday's celebrations marking the birth of the Prophet Muhammad in light of the violence.

AP

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Updated Date: Feb 05, 2012 02:50:03 IST