CAIRO – Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after at least 22 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside a Cairo stadium, three years after Egypt witnessed one of the deadliest soccer riots in the sport's history.
The Cabinet announced the suspension late Sunday after riot police clashed with hundreds of soccer fans and fired tear gas to clear a narrow corridor leading to the Air Defense stadium in an eastern Cairo suburb, setting off a deadly stampede.
Egypt last suspended the league in 2012 after 74 fans were killed in rioting at a match in the Suez Canal city of Port Said. That violence sparked widespread outrage at the police and the then-ruling transitional military council for not doing enough to stop the killings.
Fans have only recently been allowed back in stadiums, but authorities continue to limit the number who can attend.
Egypt's public prosecutor has ordered an investigation of the violence. The largely militarized police force is already facing heightened scrutiny following the shooting death of an unarmed female protester last month in downtown Cairo.
On Monday, the pro-government media and the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, sought to deflect blame from the security forces. The president of Zamalek, lawyer Mortada Mansour, told a private TV station that police did not open fire on the club's fans, as was widely reported on social media, and that Sunday's violence was "orchestrated" to foil upcoming parliamentary elections.
Mansour is a staunch supporter of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the former army chief who has waged a sweeping crackdown on dissent since he led the 2013 overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first-ever freely elected leader.
Authorities say the violence began when hundreds of hard-core Zamalek fans known as Ultras White Knights tried to force their way into the stadium to attend the soccer match without tickets.
On their Facebook page, the White Knights said the violence began because authorities only opened one narrow, barbed-wire door to let them in. They said that sparked pushing and shoving that later saw police officers fire tear gas and birdshot.
One fan, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity out of fear of being targeted by police, said the stampede was caused by police, who fired tear gas at the tightly packed crowd.
"Those who fell down could not get back up again," the man said.
Sunday's match, pitting Zamalek of Cairo against ENPPI, kicked off more than an hour behind schedule. Zamalek is leading the league, with ENPPI three points behind in second place. The teams drew 1-1.