PORT SAID, Egypt: Twenty-six people were killed in Egypt’s Port Said on Saturday when 21 supporters of a local football club were sentenced to death over a bloody post-match riot last year in the canal city.
The clashes erupted after a Cairo court handed down the sentences over the riot last February in which 74 people were killed, and came a day after violence swept Egypt on the second anniversary of its uprising.
As news of the verdicts emerged, relatives of those condemned tried to storm the prison in Port Said where they are being held, leading to fierce clashes with security forces.
Unidentified assailants used automatic weapons against police who responded with tear gas, witnesses said.
Two police stations in Port Said were stormed, an AFP correspondent said, and heavy gunfire could be heard in the Al-Manakh neighbourhood.
Ambulances ferried the injured to hospitals, and businesses closed for the day as protesters set tyres alight and mosques urged worshippers to donate blood.
Troops are being sent to Port Said, a senior army officer said.
“It has been decided to deploy some units to work for calm and stability and the protection of public establishments,” official news agency MENA quoted General Ahmed Wasfi as saying.
Head of Port Said hospitals Abdelrahman Farag gave a toll of “26 people killed and 277 injured” in the violence.
Two policemen were among those killed, the interior ministry said.
Germany expressed its “concern” over the unrest, days ahead of a scheduled visit by President Mohamed Morsi to Berlin.
The opposition threatened to boycott upcoming parliamentary polls if Morsi — facing his worst crisis since coming to power in June — does not find a “comprehensive solution” to the unrest.
The National Salvation Front, the main coalition of parties and movements opposing the ruling Islamists, called for the creation of a “national salvation” government, otherwise it will “not participate” in the election.
Last February’s riots between fans of Port Said home side Al-Masry and Cairo’s Al-Ahly also sparked days of violent protests in Cairo, in which another 16 people were killed.
In the capital, both inside and outside the court, there were explosions of joy at the verdict on Saturday. Women ululated, relatives hugged and shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).
One man who lost his son in Port Said wept outside the court, telling AFP: “I am satisfied with the verdict.”
Another, Hassan Mustafa, had pinned a picture of his dead friend to his chest and said he was pleased, but wanted “justice served for those who planned the killing.”
Many Egyptians believe the violence was orchestrated either by the police or by supporters of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
The Cairo court has handed its verdict to Egypt’s top cleric for his final opinion, as is customary, and set March 9 for delivering verdicts on another 52 defendants, including police officers.
The sentence is subject to appeal, judicial sources said.
The sentences come after a day of clashes marking the revolution’s second anniversary left at least nine people dead and 530 injured.
Tens of thousands took to the streets nationwide on Friday to protest against Morsi, who is accused of failing the revolution and consolidating power in the hands of his Muslim Brotherhood.
Morsi early Saturday used Twitter to appeal for calm, urging “citizens to adhere to the values of the revolution, express opinions freely and peacefully and renounce violence.”
Troops in armoured vehicles deployed in Suez late on Friday, taking up positions at the entry of the canal, outside police headquarters and the governorate building.
The canal authority said on Saturday shipping operations were unaffected by the violence.
A Greek ferry boat anchored in Port Said, however, was hit by apparent stray gunfire on Saturday, but no one was hurt, Greece’s foreign ministry said.
Protesters also stormed government buildings in canal city Ismailiya on Friday, and torched the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters.
In Cairo, police fired tear gas at protesters outside the presidential palace, scene of deadly clashes between Morsi’s allies and foes in December.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: “I note with concern that Egypt is unable to settle peacefully the question of the best route to pursue for a positive future for the country.”