Egypt football league suspended after at least 25 fans killed in stadium stampede and clashes

Police fired at Zamalek fans and used tear gas as they tried to get into game

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The Independent Online

At least 25 people have been killed in a stampede and clashes between football supporters and police outside a stadium in Egypt.

Fans of Zamalek were trying to force their way in to watch a match against city rivals ENPPI in Cairo when the violence started on Sunday. Many supporters were crushed in a stampede after police fired tear gas at the tightly-packed crowd.

Witnesses claimed officers also fired at fans with lead pellets or “birdshot” cartridges and supporters posted pictures on Facebook showing dead bodies and a street littered with shoes, torn clothing and blood.

A fan said the stampede started when police fired tear gas at supporters trying to get through the one narrow, barbed-wire covered gate open to them.

“Those who fell down could not get back up again,” he added.

The exact death toll has not been confirmed, with initial estimates putting the number at 22 but the number apparently rising as people succumbed to their injuries.

At least 20 more were injured in the violence at the Air Defence Stadium.

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Football fans argue with security personnel as they attempt to enter the stadium, before the stampede started on 8 February

Limits were imposed on the number of fans allowed to attend football matches after 74 football supporters were killed in rioting at a stadium in Port Said three years ago but have since been lifted.

The cap will now be re-imposed.

As a result of Sunday’s death, Egypt’s Premier League has been suspended indefinitely and an arrest warrant has been issued for the leaders of the Ultras White Knights, a Zamalek supporters group.

They have a history of tension and clashes with the security forces, and the group was involved in the 2011 uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

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Relatives of Zamalek football club fans react and wait outside a morgue in Cairo, Egypt, on February

Many consider them as one of the most organised movements in Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed as a terrorist organisation by the military government that overthrew elected President Mohamed Morsi in a 2013 coup.

On their Facebook page, the Ultras White Knights posted the names of the dead, calling them “martyrs” and accusing security forces of a “massacre”.

“Huge numbers of Zamalek club fans came to Air Defence Stadium to attend the match...and tried to storm the stadium gates by force, which prompted the troops to prevent them from continuing the assault,” a statement from Egypt’s interior ministry said.

Despite the violence, the match went ahead and ended with a 1-1 draw.

There are fears of further clashes in the days ahead as anger grows against police following the death of a female protester shot in Cairo and the arrest of demonstrators under oppressive laws.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has pledged to bring stability to Egypt amid bombings and attacks by Islamist militants but reportedly said the country’s emergency situation meant that some violations of human rights were inevitable, if regrettable.

Egypt's public prosecutor has issued a statement ordering an investigation into the football deaths.

Fans have only recently been allowed back at matches and the interior ministry planned to let only 10,000 fans into the stadium, which has a capacity of about 30,000.

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Zamalek fans were involved in the anti-Mubarak protests in 2011

In March 2014, the government banned fans of Al-Ahly, Zamalek, Al-Ismaily attending any football games in the national league for "security purposes".

The deadliest riot in Egyptian football history was during a 2012 match when Port Said's Al-Masry team hosted Cairo's Al-Ahly.

Two police officers later received 15-year prison sentences for gross negligence and failure to stop the Port Said killings - a rare incident of security officials being held responsible for deaths in the country.

In response, angry fans burned down the headquarters of Egypt's Football Association, protested and fought officers outside the country's interior ministry, which oversees policing.

Additional reporting by agencies

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