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Egypt inquiry splits blame for football riot

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An Egyptian parliamentary inquiry into the deaths of 74 people in a football match disaster has found both fans and lax security to blame for the worst incident of its kind in the country's history.

The preliminary findings of the inquiry into the February 2 incident in Port Said were announced on Sunday by Ashraf Thabet, a member of parliament who has headed the investigation. Thabet belongs to the ultraconservatie Nour Party and is one of two deputy speakers in parliament.

Thabet offered little to support the view of some Egyptians that the deaths were the result of a military-concocted plot but did corroborate evidence of a seemingly intentional security vacuum.

"Security facilitated, allowed and enabled this massacre," he said.

Thabet said fans were not inspected while entering the stands and there was a lack of order inside and outside the stadium. The security forces had failed to predict trouble and control the crowd stampede, he added.

Witness testimony collected soon after the event by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights supported Thabet's statements.

Some have speculated that the event was staged to take revenge on hardcore football fans known as ultras who have participated on the front lines of protests against military rule.

He listed factors including incitement by sports TV channels as the cause of the incident, which touched off several days of violent protests in which 16 more people were killed, most of them in Cairo.

The incident occurred at the end of a match between Port Said-based Al Masry and Cairo's Al Ahly, the most successful club in Africa.

Moments after Al Masry's 3-1 victory, hundreds of Masry supporters surged across the pitch to the visitors' end, causing panicked Ahly fans to dash for the exit. But the steel doors were bolted shut and dozens were crushed to death in the stampede. Others reportedly were stabbed to death or died after falling from stadium terraces.

Riot police assigned to guard the pitch can be seen on video standing by and making no effort to stop the surge. Witnesses said military troops stationed outside the stadium similarly did not try to help.

Thabet also laid blame on the ultras, who regularly confront riot police at matches.

He spoke of instigators who had used thugs and hardcore soccer fans to take "advantage of the tension surrounding the game to achieve some political gains", but without giving further details.

"We will announce their names," he said.

Some critics of the military-led authorities had laid the blame on the government, some saying the violence was planned to create an air of chaos that would add to the case for army rule.

Thabet said there had been tension between the fans before the match.

"Both ultras and thugs attacked Ahly fans and this is part of ultras' culture," Thabet said.

Similar instances of pitch invasions had occurred in Port Said in the past few months, Thabet said, but without causing casualties.

Demonstrators blaming the security forces for the deaths targeted the Interior Ministry in downtown Cairo in protest at what some saw as police complacency. Others said the security forces had a role in igniting trouble.

The committee said investigations were still ongoing and that it would announce final results in its final report which would assign political responsibility for the events.


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