Tuesday, March 20, 2012

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Egypt soccer violence kills 74, fans turn on army


(Reuters) - Seventy-four people were killed when supporters clashed at an Egyptian soccer match, prompting fans and politicians on Thursday to turn on the ruling army for failing to prevent the deadliest incident since Hosni Mubarak was ousted.

At least 1,000 people were injured in the violence on Wednesday when soccer fans invaded the pitch in the Mediterranean city of Port Said, after local team al-Masry beat visitors from Cairo, Al Ahli, Egypt's most successful club.

Angry politicians denounced the lack of security at the match and accused military leaders of allowing, or even causing, the fighting. The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that dominates parliament, saw an "invisible" hand at work.

The city's streets were quiet at dawn, with few police or army officers in sight.

"The military council wants to prove that the country is heading towards chaos and destruction. They are Mubarak's men. They are applying his strategy when he said 'choose me or choose chaos'," said Mahmoud el-Naggar, 30, a laboratory technician and member of the Coalition of the Revolutionary Youth in Port Said.

"Down with military rule," thousands of Egyptians chanted at the main Cairo train station where they met injured fans returning from what one minister said was the scene of Egypt's worst soccer disaster.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the state television building and marches across the capital were planned.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, 76, who heads the ruling military council, took an unusual step of speaking by telephone to a television channel, the sport broadcaster owned by Al Ahli, vowing to track down the culprits. The army announced three days of national mourning.

"I deeply regret what happened at the football match in Port Said. I offer my condolences to the victims' families," Tantawi said in comments broadcast on state television.

It did little to assuage the anger of fans, who, like many Egyptians, are furious that Egypt is still plagued by lawlessness and frequent bouts of deadly violence almost a year after Mubarak was driven out and replaced by an army council.

As with past flare-ups, it quickly turned political. Parliament will hold an emergency session later on Thursday to discuss the violence.

"The people want the execution of the field marshal," fans chanted at the station. "We will secure their rights, or die like them," they said as covered bodies were unloaded from the trains.

ENRAGED

The post-match pitch invasion provoked panic among the crowd as rival fans fought. Most of the deaths were among people who were trampled in the crush of the panicking crowd or who fell or were thrown from terraces, witnesses and health workers said.

Television footage showed some security officers in the stadium showing no sign of trying to stop the pitch invasion. One officer was filmed as people poured onto the field, talking on a mobile phone.

"The rush caused a stampede, people were pushing each other against the metal door and stepping on each other," said one witness who attended the match, 23-year-old Ossama El-Zayat.

"We saw riot police firing shots in the air, and then everyone got scared and kept pushing against the locked door. We didn't know whether police were firing live rounds or not. People were crying and dying," he said.

Several enraged politicians and ordinary Egyptians accused officials who are still in their jobs after the fall of Mubarak of complicity in the tragedy, or at least of allowing a security vacuum that has let violence flourish in the past 12 months.

"The security forces did this or allowed it to happen. The men of Mubarak are still ruling. The head of the regime has fallen but all his men are still in their positions," Albadry Farghali, a member of parliament for Port Said, screamed in a telephone call to live television.

Some saw the violence as orchestrated to target the "Ultras", Al Ahli's dedicated fans whose experience confronting police at soccer matches was turned with devastating effect against Mubarak's heavy-handed security forces in the uprising.

They played a significant role in defending Cairo's Tahrir Square, the heart of the uprising against Mubarak, when men on camels and horses charged protesters last year. Thursday is the anniversary of the notorious February 2 camel charge.

"All that happened is not for the sake of a game. It's political. It was orchestrated by the military council to target the Ultras," said Abdullah el-Said, a 43-year-old driver in Port Said. "The military council wanted to crush the ultras because they sided with protesters ever since the revolution began."

Yet many Egyptians still see the army as the only guarantor of security. When one activist in group outside a hospital accused the army of sowing chaos, a man chimed in blaming the youths: "Security has to return to the streets. Enough with all those protests that caused this security vacuum," he yelled.

The Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party won the biggest bloc in parliament, blamed an "invisible" hand for causing the violence and said the authorities were negligent.

"We fear that some officers are punishing the people for their revolution and for depriving them of their ability to act as tyrants and restricting their privileges," it said.

'THUGS'

Others blamed "thugs", the hired hands or plain clothes police officers in Mubarak's era who would often emerge from police lines to crush dissent to his rule.

"Unknown groups came between the fans and they were the ones that started the chaos. I was at the match and I saw that the group that did this is not from Port Said," said Farouk Ibrahim.

"They were thugs, like the thugs the National Democratic Party used in elections," he said, referring to Mubarak's former party and the polls that were routinely rigged in its favour.

The two soccer teams, al-Masry and Al Ahli, have a history of fierce rivalry. Witnesses said fighting began after Ahli fans unfurled banners insulting Port Said and one descended to the pitch carrying an iron bar at the end of the match.

Al-Masry fans poured onto the pitch and attacked Al Ahli players before turning to attack rival supporters.

"I saw people holding machetes and knives. Some were hit with these weapons, other victims were flung from their seats, while the invasion happened," Usama El Tafahni, a journalist in Port Said who attended the match, told Reuters.

Many fans died in a subsequent stampede, while some were flung off their seats onto the pitch and were killed by the fall. At the height of the disturbances, rioting fans fired flares straight into the stands.

Television footage showed fans running onto the field and chasing Al Ahli players. A small group of riot police formed a corridor to protect the players, but they appeared overwhelmed and fans were still able to kick and punch players as they fled.

Hospitals in the Suez Canal zone were put on alert and dozens of ambulances were sent from the cities of Ismailia and Suez, said an official in the zone's local ambulance service.

Tantawi said a fact-finding committee would be set up and pledged that the army's plan to hand over power to civilians would not be derailed. The army has promised to go back to barracks by the end of June after a presidential election.

"Egypt will be stable. We have a roadmap to transfer power to elected civilians. If anyone is plotting instability in Egypt they will not succeed," he told Al Ahli's channel.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said 47 people were arrested. Egypt's football federation said it was indefinitely delaying matches for the Egyptian premier league. Al Ahli club said in a statement it was suspending all sports activities and holding three days of mourning.

Monday, March 5, 2012

BREAKING: WASHINGTON STATE SENATE PASSES MARRIAGE EQUALITY


A little more than an hour ago, a bipartisan group of Washington State Senators voted 28-21 in favor of marriage equality.  The state senate was widely seen as the biggest hurdle to marriage equality and passage by the state house should follow.  Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) urged the state house to pass the bill so she could sign it immediately:
Tonight the Washington State Senate stood up for what is right and told all families in our state that they are equal and that the state cannot be in the business of discrimination. I believe that this decision should be made by our state Legislature, and I’m proud our elected leaders recognized that responsibility.
Tonight our families are better for this vote. Our kids have a brighter future for this bill. And our state is better for this bill. I encourage the House to approve this bill and get it to my desk for my signature. I look forward to the day when all Washington citizens have equal opportunity to marry the person they love.
Opponents of marriage equality have vowed to seek the 120,000-plus signatures necessary to force a statewide referendum on the measure.



Sunday, March 4, 2012

Red-hot MacArthur powers Leafs to 1-0 win over Penguins

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski is checked by Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Matt Niskanen, right, and Kris Letang, left, during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Toronto Wednesday.

First it was John Tavares. Next in line was Evgeni Malkin.

The Leafs faced down two of the hottest scorers in the NHL over their past four games, and the results showed with three wins and limited damage inflicted by those big gunners.

Counting Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Malkin’s Pittsburgh Penguins, the Leafs have now limited Tavares and Malkin to a goal each — encouraging results given that they faced Tavares and the Islanders back to back, then Malkin and the Penguins back to back.

The task of clamming up those hot-handed shooters fell to a line that has done its share of scoring too — Mikhail Grabovski between Clarke MacAthur and Nik Kulemin.

“For me, its fun when a big offensive line comes in and we ruin their night,” said MacArthur, who checked in with the game’s only goal to extend a tremendous stretch of play for his line.

“You back check them, you pressure them, and if you work hard against them you’ll get some offensive chances too.”

Next up is a likely showdown with Jason Spezza’s big line in Ottawa in a game against the Senators on Saturday.

Following Wednesday’s win, MacArthur and company now have 19 points in three games. That’s tremendous production to go along with the formidable assignment of handling top shooters such as Malkin and Tavares.

The Leafs bounced back from a stinging shootout loss in Pittsburgh Tuesday to help goalie James Reimer earn a shutout in it in just his second start of the new year.

Certainly, Malkin was the deciding factor for the Pens one night before when the game-tying goal went in off his chest with six seconds left, before scoring the winner in a shootout.

It was a different story back at the Air Canada Centre. MacArthur slammed Malkin early in the game with a thunderous hit, and the Leafs atoned for their third period collapse in Pittsburgh with a commitment to defensive responsibility.

“I wasn’t worried … we completely dominated them then gave it away in the third period,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said of Tuesday’s game and his club’s rebound.

“There were learning moments for us there … getting a lead and letting it go. I was kinda glad it was that kind of game, a playoff like game, if you’re not on your toes, you don’t win that type of game, so we can learn from that.”

Wilson challenged MacArthur to find his game two weeks ago by sending the slumping winger to the fourth line.

“It was a chance to go down and clear his mind,” Wilson said of MacArthur, who responded and now has four goals in his last three games.

“He needed to get his feet moving, to get in on the forecheck. I told him as soon as I see his feet moving again, he’s back up on that line. So, yeah, it was a bit of a wake-up call, but we just needed to see him moving his feet again.”

“I was in a bit of a funk,” MacArthur admitted. “I was working but not getting goals or anything going. He (Wilson) wanted to see more of me skating and more on the forecheck. For me, I’m more effective when I’m making hits. He (Wilson) has been around a long time and it’s good for me to hear something like that from him.”

Toronto welcomed back Colby Armstrong and John-Michael Liles from long-term concussion layoffs. To make room, the club sent Nazem Kadri and Keith Aulie to the Marlies.

“Those are young players who, if they aren’t playing up here, should be down playing (with the Marlies),” Wilson said of Kadri and Aulie.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Egypt football riot: Three days' mourning for dozens killed


Three days of national mourning have been declared by the authorities in Egypt after at least 74 people died in clashes between rival football fans in the city of Port Said.

Hundreds more were injured as fans invaded the pitch after a match between top-tier clubs al-Masry and al-Ahly.

Emergency meetings of the cabinet and parliament have been called.

Protest marches are being planned for Thursday against the police's inability to contain the violence.

Funerals are expected to be held after noon (10:00 GMT) prayers in Port Said.

One al-Ahly fan told the BBC that fans will march from the al-Ahly's club in Cairo to the Interior Ministry.

"People are angry at the regime more than anything else... People are really angry, you could see the rage in their eyes," Mohammed Abdel Hamid said.

Hundreds gathered at Cairo's main railway station to receive the injured and the first bodies arriving from Port Said, with some chanting slogans against military rule.

"Everyone was beating us. They were beating us from inside and outside, with fireworks, stones, metal bars, and some had knives, I swear," one fan told a private TV station.

Army units were deployed in Port Said and joined police patrols around morgues and hospitals, but most streets had no police presence.

The army has set up checkpoints at entrances to the city.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of Egypt's ruling army council, went to an airbase near Cairo to meet al-Ahly players who were flown back from Port Said on a military aircraft.

"This will not bring Egypt down... These incidents happen anywhere in the world. We will not let those behind it go," he said, according to the Associated Press news agency.

It is the biggest disaster in the country's football history, said the Egyptian deputy health minister.

"This is unfortunate and deeply saddening," Hesham Sheiha told state television, adding that many people died in a stampede as people tried to leave the stadium.

Some of the dead were security officers, AP quoted a morgue official as saying.

Tense atmosphere
The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says it appears some fans had taken knives into the stadium.

Our correspondent says the lack of the usual level of security in the stadium might have contributed to the clashes.

Police in Egypt have been keeping a much lower profile since last year's popular protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak from power.

Egyptian fans are notoriously violent, says our correspondent, particularly supporters of al-Ahly known as the Ultras.

They have been heavily implicated in confronting the police during recent political protests, our correspondent adds. There is speculation that the security forces may have had an interest in taking on al-Ahly supporters.

Wednesday's violence broke out at the end of the match, which, unusually, Port Said club al-Masry won 3-1.

Witnesses said the atmosphere had been tense throughout the match - since an al-Ahly fan raised a banner insulting supporters of the home team.

As the match ended, their fans flooded onto the pitch attacking al-Ahly players and fans.

A small group of riot police tried to protect the players, but were overwhelmed.

Part of the stadium was set on fire.

'Black day'
Officials say most of the deaths were caused by concussions, deep cuts to the heads and suffocation from the stampede.

"This is not football. This is a war and people are dying in front of us," al-Ahly player Mohamed Abo Treika said.

"I cannot believe these things happened randomly, I don't think so, it was arranged," Al-Ahly official Hanan Zeini told the BBC.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood - which has emerged as Egypt's biggest party in recent elections - blamed supporters of ousted President Hosni Mubarak for the violence.

"The events in Port Said are planned and are a message from the remnants of the former regime," Muslim Brotherhood lawmaker Essam al-Erian said.

He went on by saying that the army and police wanted to silence critics demanding an end to the state of emergency in the country.


Hani Seddik, former al-Ahly player: "I think it's more like some people were planning it"
In Cairo, another match was halted by the referee after news of the Port Said violence.

It prompted fans to set parts of the stadium on fire, though no casualties were reported and the fire was quickly extinguished.

All Egyptian premier-league matches have been cancelled.

Fifa President Sepp Blatter issued a statement, expressing his shock over the incident.

"This is a black day for football. Such a catastrophic situation is unimaginable and should not happen," he said.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Egyptians Blast Military for Deadly Soccer Rampage


Egyptian politicians and activists are blaming the military for the world's deadliest soccer rampage in 15 years that claimed the lives of 74 and injured more than 1,000 people. Leaders of the new Parliament accused the military-led government of deliberately allowing the violence at the Port Said match to escalate to justify boosted police powers and undercut the revolution. A senior Islamic lawmaker accused the military of “a plot against democratic transition” and of “a revenge against us," reports the New York Times. “The reason for this tragedy is the deliberate neglect and absence of the military and the police,” said Essam el Erian.

The government military council "wants to prove that the country is heading toward chaos and destruction. They are Mubarak's men. They are applying his strategy when he said, 'Choose me or choose chaos,'" a member of the Coalition of the Revolutionary Youth told Reuters. Even the Twitterverse erupted with speculation about the lack of security in controlling the violence. Video of the scene showed police standing quietly by as the rampage between rival fans exploded on the field. “People here are dying, and no one is doing a thing. It’s like a war,” said a soccer player who told a local TV station that police did nothing. “Is life this cheap?” Egypt's military leader has vowed that all the guilty will be brought to justice, and the government has called for three days of mourning for the dead. Protest marches against security forces are planned today.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

NATO report says Pakistan backing Taliban

Pakistan boycotted last year's Bonn conference on Afghanistan in protest of a deadly cross-border attack














Pakistan's foreign minister heads to Kabul on Wednesday with Afghan-Pakistani relations under fresh strain over a leaked NATO report claiming that Pakistan's security services are helping the Taliban, and suggesting that the group is poised to regain power.

Hina Rabbani Khar, the Pakistani foreign minister, is due to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a one-day visit to Kabul aimed at improving strained relations between the two neighbours.

But the meeting, heralded by the Afghan foreign ministry as a "new co-operation phase" between the antagonistic neighbours, was overshadowed by the leaked report, obtained by the BBC and the UK's Times newspaper.

While the allegations that Pakistan's security services are helping the Taliban have been made time and again, the timing of the leak appeared to place fresh strain on already fractured diplomatic ties.

The report is derived from thousands of interrogations and alleges that Pakistan knows the locations of senior Taliban leaders, the BBC and the Times said.

Pakistan denounced the report, calling it "frivolous" and reiterating its non-interference in Afghanistan.

"This is frivolous, to put it mildly. We are committed to non-interference in Afghanistan and expect all other states to strictly adhere to this principle,"  said Abdul Basit, a foreign ministry spokesman.

Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse, reporting from Kabul, said Pakistan’s alleged aid to the Taliban on their territory has long been a problem for the Afghan government.

“Many Afghans believe the Taliban are playing for time because they want a role in the future of Afghanistan, and many are concerned that they might come back to power. Their return would tighten the gains of the past decade such as women’s rights.

Wednesday’s meeting comes with bilateral and trilateral meetings (including the US) still frozen since the September assassination of Afghanistan’s chief peace negotiator, Burhanuddin Rabbani, which one Afghan minister blamed on Pakistani spies.

In December, Pakistan boycotted a major conference in Germany on the future of Afghanistan to protest against a cross-border US air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26. It also closed down the crucial supply routes that NATO forces uses.

Khar meets her Afghan counterpart Zalmai Rasoul and Karzai amid tentative moves towards negotiations in Qatar involving the US and the Taliban, who were removed from power by a 2001 US-led invasion.

Karzai has given a lukewarm welcome to the Taliban opening a political office in the Gulf state, but is wary of being sidelined and has insisted that his government should have a central role in any peace talks.