Egypt's army intervenes in Port Said clashes

2013-03-04 09:02

Port Said - The military intervened in clashes between thousands of protesters and police in a restive Egyptian canal city on Sunday, the latest in a cycle of violence that continues to rock Egypt two years after the uprising that ousted longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Also on Sunday, a court ruled that Mubarak will face a new trial next month on charges related to the killings of hundreds of protesters during the revolution that forced him from power.

At least 5 000 protesters threw rocks and firebombs at police in Port Said late on Sunday, the scene of a civil strike now in its second week. Riot police responded with tear gas and bird shot.

Egyptian soldiers intervened by forming a line between the two sides, as protesters climbed the tanks chanting support for the country's armed forces that, unlike the police, have not cracked down on rioters in the city. "The people and the army are one hand!" the demonstrators shouted.

Health official Helmy el-Afani said 325 people were injured in the clashes. Most suffered tear gas inhalation while others were wounded by bird shot. The Interior Ministry said one policeman was killed by gunfire, one soldier was shot and at least 10 members of the security forces were among those wounded.

Many residents of Port Said are demanding retribution for what they claim was excessive police force that led to the deaths of more than 40 civilians in late January. Most were killed during an attempt by some to storm a prison there.

The embattled Interior Ministry, which oversees Egypt's police force, was unable to contain the anger in the city at the time and the president leaned on the military to protect key installations and buildings. Sunday was the first time the army intervened between police and protesters in Port Said since the military was dispatched there in late January.

Protests swept the city on January 26 after a Cairo court issued death sentences against 21 people, most from Port Said, for their part in Egypt's deadliest soccer riot in February 2012.

The latest street battles broke out when word emerged that 39 defendants in the case were transferred to prisons outside the city. A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the case, said the transfer was necessary to ensure calm before a March 9 court hearing that is expected to issue new verdicts for police officers and other Port Said defendants also charged in connection with the soccer incident.