Egypt soccer protests hit restive Suez Canal city

CAIRO (AP) — Thousands of soccer fans enforced a work stoppage Sunday in Egypt's restive city of Port Said to protest government "injustices," disrupting rail services and forcefully evicting workers from factories and provincial government offices.

Egypt's president Mohammed Morsi had declared a state of emergency and 30-day curfew in Port Said and two other Suez Canal provinces following a wave of violence that left more than 50 people dead last month. The state of emergency is still in effect, though the curfew was reduced to only two hours after residents ignored it.

That unrest was set off when a court convicted and sentenced 21 people to death for involvement in a mass soccer riot in the city's main stadium on Feb. 1, 2012 that left 74 dead. Most of those killed in the melee were visiting fans of Cairo's Al-Ahly team.

The verdict enraged people in Port Said, where the majority of the condemned were local soccer fans, many of whom claim innocence. The ensuing security crackdown deepened a sense of persecution that residents have harbored since the stadium disaster, the worst soccer violence ever to hit Egypt.

As part of the Sunday protest, members of the "Green Eagles" fan club, supporters of Port Said's Al-Masry team, also disrupted the city's main telephone exchange and sent students home from several schools.

Several hundreds of protesters marched through the Mediterranean city at the mouth of the Suez Canal, chanting against the government and raising pictures of those killed in the violence.

"Port Said has always been treated unjustly over the years," a statement by the Green Eagles said. The group said the verdict exonerated state institutions — including the interior ministry and the military — which it said should be held responsible for failing to prevent the massacre.

"The city's revolt comes because of a deep sense of injustice," the statement said, adding that this was aggravated by the use of gunfire by the interior ministry against unarmed civilians under orders from the regime.

The group called for retribution and compensation for those killed during the recent unrest, and a retrial for those found guilty in the soccer massacre.

There was no immediate government comment on the situation in Port Said.

The violence in Port Said, and the subsequent emergency measures Morsi attempted to impose are the latest sign of Egypt's deepening malaise.

Morsi and his government are struggling to impose order as discontent widens beyond the capital Cairo in the face of growing social and economic problems.

Morsi is also facing an increasingly vocal political opposition which complains that he and his Islamist backers in the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's strongest political force, are attempting to monopolize power and have adopted practices similar to longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.

Mubarak was forced to step down in the face of popular protests in 2011 after ruling Egypt for nearly 30 years under a tight security regime.

The Popular Current group, one of the main opposition groups, expressed its support for the Port Said work stoppages Sunday, saying the city's anger is "part of the popular anger" against Morsi.

"What is happening in Port Said is a legitimate right in the face of an authority that has adopted repression and tyranny," the group said in a statement.

Mohammed Fouad, a representative of Port Said's business community, told the privately-owned ONTV channel that the work stoppage tactic was used out of desperation after much injustice.

"The officials have done nothing for us ... The presidency is not moving a finger," he said.