Two Die as Egypt Protesters Torch Buildings, Target Suez Canal

Some 65 injured as police in Cairo fire tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters; demonstrators in Alexandria call to return the army to power.

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Egyptian protesters torched buildings in Cairo and tried unsuccessfully to disrupt international shipping on the Suez Canal, as a courtruling on a deadly soccer riot stoked rage in a country beset by worsening security.

The ruling enraged residents of Port Said, at the northern entrance of the Suez Canal, by confirming death sentences imposed on 21 local soccer fans for their role in the riot last year when more than 70 people were killed.

But the court also angered rival fans in Cairo by acquitting a further 28 defendants that they wanted punished, including seven members of the police force which is reviled across society for its brutality under deposed autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Security sources said two people, a man in his thirties and a young boy, died in Cairo from the effects of tear gas and rubber bullets. A total of 65 people were injured.

Saturday's protests and violence underlined how Islamist President Mohamed Morsi is struggling - two years after Mubarak's overthrow - to maintain law and order at a time of economic and political crisis.

The presidency said in a statement that the protests were not peaceful and condemned any violence against any property.

On Thursday, Egypt's election committee scrapped a timetable under which voting for the lower house of parliament should havebegun next month, following a court ruling that threw the entire polling process into confusion.

The stadium riot took place last year at the end of a match in Port Said between local side Al-Masry and Cairo's Al-Ahlyteam. Spectators were crushed when panicked crowds tried to escape from the stadium after a pitch invasion by Al-Masry supporters. Others fell or were thrown from terraces.

Judge Sobhy Abdel Maguid, listing the names of the 21Al-Masry fans, said the Cairo court had confirmed "the deathpenalty by hanging." He also sentenced five more people to lifeimprisonment while others out of a total of 73 defendantsreceived shorter terms.

In Cairo, local Al-Ahly fans vented their rage at theacquittals, setting fire to a police social club, the nearbyoffices of the Egyptian soccer federation and a branch of a fastfood chain, sending smoke rising over the capital.

A military helicopter scooped up water from the nearby Nileand dropped it on the burning buildings.

"Ultra" fans, the section of Al-Ahly supporters responsiblefor much of the violence, said they awaited retribution forthose who had planned the Port Said "massacre".

"What is happening today in Cairo is the beginning of theanger. Wait for more if the remaining elements embroiled in thismassacre are not revealed," the Ultras said in a statement.

Meanwhile, in Alexandria, demonstrators called for returning the military to power on Friday.

Ayman Ezzadin, a coordinator from one of the opposition parties, said his party supports the call to bring the army back to power. He blamed President Mohammed Morsi for making a series of problematic decisions that conflicted with the constitution, the will of the public and the objectives of the revolution. He added that the campaign to restore the army to power was being well received in the country, and that many Egyptians had signed petitions in favor of the idea.

Protesters target canal

In Port Said, where the army took over security in the citycenter from the police on Friday, about 2,000 residents who wantthe local fans spared from execution blockaded ferries crossingthe Suez Canal. Witnesses said youths also untied mooredspeedboats used to supply shipping on the waterway, hoping theboats would drift into the path of passing vessels.

Military police recovered five speedboats and brought themback to shore, but two were still drifting, one witness said.

Authorities controlling the Canal, an artery for globaltrade and major income source for the Egyptian government, saidthrough traffic had not been affected. "The canal ... is safeand open to all ships passing through it," Suez Canal Authorityspokesman Tarek Hassanein told the MENA news agency.

The canal is a major employer in Port Said and, until now, protesters had declared it off-limits for the demonstrations apart from on one occasion when red balloons marked "SOS" werefloated into the waterway.

In a separate security threat, the Interior Ministry orderedpolice in the Sinai peninsula to raise their state of emergencyafter receiving intelligence that jihadists might attack theirforces there, MENA reported.

Officials have expressed growing worries about security inthe desert region which borders Israel and is home to a numberof tourist resorts. In August last year Islamist militant gunmenkilled at least 15 Egyptian policemen in an assault on a policestation on the border with Israel, before seizing two militaryvehicles and attempting to storm the frontier.

Last Thursday, Bedouin gunmen briefly held the head of U.S.oil company ExxonMobil in Egypt and his wife. The Britons, who hadbeen heading for a Sinai resort, were released unharmed.

General unrest is rife as Egypt's poor suffer badly from theeconomic crisis. Foreign currency reserves have slid tocritically low levels and are now little more than a third ofwhat they were in the last days of Mubarak.

The Egyptian pound has lost 14 percent against the dollarsince the 2011 revolution and the budget deficit is soaring tounmanageable levels due to the huge cost of fuel and foodsubsidies. Egypt agreed a e4.8 billion loan with theInternational Monetary Fund last November, but Cairo requested adelay due to street violence the following month.

Analysts say the chances of an IMF deal are slim until theelectoral chaos is sorted out, but question how much longer thegovernment can hold out without international funding.

Protesters, who oppose Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, flee from riot police during clashes along Qasr Al Nil bridge, which leads to Tahrir Square in Cairo. March 9, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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