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Football fans hold mass rally in Cairo

Protesters decry police’s crackdown, demand comrades’ release

Supporters of Egypt's Al Ahly football club
Image Credit: AFP
Supporters of Egypt's Al-Ahly football club protest outside the public prosecutor's office in Cairo on March 16, 2013, demanding the release of fellow members of their Ultras hardcore fan group.
Gulf News

Cairo: Hundreds of hardcore soccer fans on Saturday took to the streets in central Cairo, demanding the release of comrades being in custody after recent clashes with security forces.

As they chanted slogans against the police, the protesters, known as the Ultras, briefly blocked Cairo’s major 6th October Bridge before gathering outside the office of the country’s public prosecutor where they set off fireworks and flares in a sign of anger.

The Ultras are one of Egypt’s most vociferous anti-government protest groups, and played a major role in a 2011 revolt that toppled Husni Mubarak. They have long-standing strained relations with the police.

“North or south, our brothers will be freed,” chanted the protesters. They were referring to 38 soccer fans and activists who were arrested and charged last week with belonging to an illegal group and disrupting public order after clashing with security forces outside a court in the Nile Delta city of Shebeen al-Koum.

“Today, we say it peacefully. Ttomorrow, don’t blame us for what we’ll do,” shouted the demonstrators in unison, prompting the operator of Cairo subway service to temporarily close a nearby station.

The Ultras are accused of having torched a police club and the headquarters of the Egyptian Football Association last week after a court acquitted seven policemen of involvement in the killing of 74 soccer fans last year in the nation’s worst soccer tragedy.

The Egyptian government is currently drafting a tough law against soccer hooliganism. Penalties in the law, which has to be approved by the Islamist-dominated parliament, include death punishment, according to media reports.