CAIRO (AP) — Prosecutors released 25 Egyptian soccer fans arrested after clashes at Cairo’s international airport, the state news agency reported Saturday, ahead of the first international match planned in the city in two years.
The release of the fans of Cairo’s Al-Ahly club, known as Ultras, comes before a vital World Cup playoff against Ghana in a military-owned stadium in Cairo. Ghana had asked FIFA to move the match over security concerns in Cairo, where scattered protests against the country’s popularly backed July 3 military coup continue and sometimes devolve into clashes.
The qualifier, scheduled for Nov. 19, is also the first game where up to 30,000 fans will be allowed to attend after a ban following a riot at a club match in 2012 that left more than 70 people killed. It was the worst football-related violence in Egypt in decades.
Al-Ahly fans frequently clash with police inside and outside of stadiums. Many prominently participated in the country’s 2011 uprising that forced out President Hosni Mubarak.
The 25 fans were arrested in October after they arrived at the airport to receive the handball team affiliated with the club. Security forces said they tried to storm to an airport terminal. Other Al-Ahly fans have organized several protests over the arrests.
On Saturday, MENA reported that prosecutors released the 25 on their own recognizance pending an investigation. The prosecution said the detainees have paid for the airport damage.
The release appeared designed to defuse tension ahead of coming matches. In a test run for security forces, Cairo hosts a major African Champion League final between Al-Ahly and South Africa’s Orlando Pirates on Sunday.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim told private television station CBC he hopes Sunday’s match takes place “without riots and in the spirit of sport.”
Unrest has gripped Egypt following the coup that ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July. Near-daily protests organized by Morsi supporters often escalate into street clashes that have killed dozens.
On Friday, two people, including a 12-year-old boy Mohammed Badawi, died in clashes between Morsi opponents and supporters in Cairo. At the boy’s funeral Saturday, scuffles erupted as mourners argued over the dead boy’s political affiliation.
A security official said people taking part in the funeral chanted anti-Morsi slogans, stirring anger among Morsi supporters nearby.
Another security official said mourners also threw gasoline bombs at a home they said belonged to a Morsi supporter who threw stones at the funeral procession. He said four Morsi supporters were arrested by security forces.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to brief reporters.
Egypt’s Education Ministry said it will offer the slain boy’s family about $7,000 in compensation.
Authorities are increasingly intolerant of protests, blaming Morsi’s supporters for destabilizing the country. A new law placing strict rules on protests will be ready in the coming days, officials say, likely before a state of emergency expires in the country Thursday.
The bill has been condemned widely by different political factions, who say it was designed to restrict protests and curtail freedoms.
Government spokesman Sherif Shawky said the Justice Ministry was reviewing amendments to the protest bill before it goes to the interim president for his endorsement. Among the recommendations, he said, was lifting a ban on sit-ins and a reduction in fines imposed on violators.
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