PORT SAID/CAIRO – At least 30 people were killed on Saturday when Egyptians
rampaged in protest at the sentencing of 21 people to death over a soccer
stadium disaster. The violence compounds the political crisis facing
Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

Armored vehicles and military police
fanned through the streets of Port Said, a city of some 600,000 people, where
gunshots rang out and protesters burned tires in anger that people from their
city had been blamed for stadium deaths last year.

The rioting in Port Said, one of the most
deadly spasms of violence since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster two years ago, followed a
day of anti-Morsi demonstrations on Friday, when nine people were
killed. The toll over the past two days stands at 39.

The
flare-ups make it even tougher for Morsi, who drew fire last year for expanding
his powers and pushing through an Islamisttinged constitution, to fix the
creaking economy and to cool tempers enough to ensure a smooth parliamentary
election.

That vote is expected in April and is meant to cement a
democratic transition that has been blighted from the outset by political rows
and street clashes.

The National Defense Council, led by Morsi and which
includes the defense minister who commands the army, called for “a broad
national dialogue that would be attended by independent national characters” to
discuss political differences and ensure a “fair and transparent” parliamentary
poll.

The statement was made on state television by Information Minister
Salah Abdel Maqsoud, who is also on the council.

The National Salvation
Front of liberal-minded groups and other opponents cautiously welcomed the call
but demanded any such dialogue have a clear agenda and guarantees that any deal
would be implemented, spokesman Khaled Dawoud told Reuters.

The Front
spurned previous calls for dialogue, saying Morsi ignored voices beyond his
Islamist allies.

The Front earlier on Saturday threatened an election
boycott and to call for more protests on Friday if demands were not
met.

Its demands included picking a national unity government to restore
order and holding an early presidential poll.

A judge announced the death
penalty on Saturday for 21 of the 73 defendants on trial for the Port Said
massacre. Clashes in Port Said following the announcement of the verdict left at
least nine dead and dozens more injured, according to the Egyptian daily Al-
Ahram.

Seventy-four people died in riots at a soccer stadium in Port Said
on February 1, 2012. Eyewitnesses said police did nothing to stop the melee that
broke out between rival soccer teams and even refused to open the doors to allow
people to escape. The massacre was held up as proof of the country’s slide
toward anarchy.

Over the past week, the “ultras,” or young soccer
hooligans who are often at the head of protest marches and responsible for much
of the violence at Egypt’s protests posted online threats promising to destroy
and burn buildings across Cairo if they were unsatisfied with the
verdict.

If it is anything less than capital punishment, “the country
will burn,” one 19-year-old ‘ultra’ named Ahmed told The Jerusalem Post on
Friday in Tahrir Square.

“We are angry because we haven’t received our
rights… It’s not just a football match, the [Muslim] Brotherhood wants to
continue to burn the country to they can continue to rule,” he said. “There’s no
justice.”

In the aftermath of clashes on Friday night to mark the
two-year anniversary of the revolution, pundits and politicians focused much
attention on a new group of protesters who also could be linked to the ultras:
the black bloc.

For the first time on Friday, teenagers and young people
came out in force dressed head-to-toe in black, many wearing black ski
masks.

The term “black bloc” began in Germany in the 1970s with a group
of anarchists and has been used loosely in a number of other instances since
then, including at the anti-World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999
and the G20 summit in Toronto in 2010.

In Egypt, members of the black
bloc refused to speak to the media.

“No one knows anything about them,
they appeared three or four days ago,” said Adel, an Arabic literature teacher
who saw them in Tahrir Square on Friday for the first time. “Some people think
they are ‘ultras,’ but they issued a statement on Friday saying ‘we’re not
ultras, we’re not anyone.’” However, some wore ski masks with the insignia of
the Al Ahly soccer team.

Many seasoned activists dismissed the black
blocs as angry teenagers looking to stir up trouble, who will not have a lasting
impact.

“We might see a reemergence [in coming protests], but I don’t
expect them to hijack the revolution,” said Adel.

“[Are the black bloc]
anarchist revolutionaries or 18 year olds who live with their moms & wear
black masks thinking life is a video game?” one activist asked sarcastically on
Twitter.

Reuters contributed to this report.

30 die in Egypt protests over soccer massacre verdicts – Jerusalem Post
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