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In Egypt, Deadly Soccer Riot Reignites Protests Against Military Rule

February 2, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

JEFFREY BROWN: The people of Egypt faced a new crisis today. A bloodbath involving soccer fans sent fresh fighting surging through the streets of Cairo.

We begin with a report narrated by Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: It’s a familiar scene from Egypt’s unfinished revolution: protesters clashing with security forces tonight on the road to Cairo’s Interior Ministry near Tahrir Square.

Yet, the spark for all this was a riot from which scores of fans have returned home in coffins throughout the day. The home side in Port Said last night should have been celebrating victory. Instead, their fans stormed the pitch. They attacked the visitors’ supporters with knives, clubs, stones and even fireworks — 74 people were killed, fans of Cairo’s Al-Ahly club suffocated in stampedes as they tried to escape.

Even their team was chased from the ground, Egyptian police, for the most part, standing aside, either through deliberate negligence or fear of making a bad situation worse. The result, the players’ changing room suddenly converted into a makeshift hospital. The team’s Portuguese coach said he was beaten and that he’d seen fans die in front of him, while TV sports presenters were hanging their heads in shock and disbelief.

A scandalous night for football has reignited angry protests, demanding Egypt’s generals give up power.

MAN (through translator): We were pushed off the high-seated section at the top of the stadium. Those who fell died, and none of the security tried to stop it. I was struck by a knife twice, in my hand and head.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: The protests began at Cairo’s railway station, Egyptians chanting for the military’s downfall as trains brought back surviving football fans.

“My son hasn’t answered his phone,” said this woman. “He’s 18 and from Cairo. Please, I beg you, help me find my son.”

At the stadium itself this morning, the wreckage left by a riot, the seats still smeared with blood. The town’s governor’s been suspended and the board governing Egyptian soccer has been sacked.

The usually camera-shy Field Marshal Tantawi, who governs Egypt, turned out to greet a clearly bewildered Cairo side. He’s ordered an investigation and claimed that the transition to civilian rule is still on track. But in Egypt’s newly elected parliament, M.P.s have lined up to accuse the military of plotting against that transition by permitting last night’s violence.

Whatever the truth, Egypt is once again in turmoil. Its revolution is barely a year old — last night’s violence proof, say protesters, that the army must go, with large demonstrations now planned for tomorrow.