February 7, 2012 / 6:38 PM / 8 years ago

Egypt MPs say minister must step down over deaths

* Violence after soccer match left 74 dead last week

* Protesters took to streets blaming police for failings

* MPs accuse police of using live rounds in street protests

By Tom Pfeiffer

CAIRO, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Egyptian lawmakers blamed the interior minister on Tuesday for the deaths of protesters in five days of street clashes with riot police in Cairo and said it showed his ministry should be purged of remnants of Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

A show of anger at the 74 deaths after a soccer match last week turned into a broad protest against Egypt’s army rulers, accused by some Egyptians of blocking real reform of the security forces that enjoyed virtual impunity under ousted President Mubarak.

Fifteen people have died in the fighting that erupted in Cairo and the eastern city of Suez after the stadium deaths, according to official figures.

Thousands of stone-throwing protesters fought their way through clouds of tear gas to within metres of the ministry building at the weekend. Security forces repelled them and sealed it off by laying concrete barriers across the streets.

Members of Egypt’s new parliament, dominated by Islamists who swept Egypt’s first free election in decades, accused the security forces of using live rounds on the protesters.

Parliament’s youth committee “recommended that the interior minister be held responsible for the killing and injuring of the protesters and ask the respected parliament to withdraw confidence from him,” said committee head Osama Yassin, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood which dominates the assembly.

Citing a parliamentary fact-finding report, Yassin said eyewitnesses and doctors spoke of citizens and policemen injured by bullets. He called for immediate measures to “purify” the ministry of corrupt officials and uphold citizens’ right to peaceful protest.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, who addressed parliament after Yassin, said the police had been deployed to protect the institutions of state, not to confront anyone.

“The weapons that were present in the vehicles and with the security forces contained nothing but tear gas canisters and these were not fired until warnings were given,” he said, promising to investigate “talk” of gunshots being fired.

In earlier comments on the stadium disaster, the minister blamed provocations by rival fans but also said there were shortcomings in security arrangements at Wednesday’s match.

Bystanders told a Reuters correspondent close to the fighting in Cairo at the weekend that gunshots were fired beside the hail of tear gas. One protester showed a pellet of buckshot he that said was found at the scene.

Streets around the Interior Ministry were quiet on Tuesday. Security forces had finished building half a dozen concrete walls across roads leading to Sheikh Rihan Street, which runs alongside the Interior Ministry.

Riot police had retreated behind the walls and bulldozers were cleaning up rocks, bricks and other debris at the scene of the street battles of the last few days.

Minister Ibrahim said 273 police were injured in the clashes, nine of them from gunshot, and 243 arrests were made.

“If people got into (the ministry), people would accuse me of neglect. What can I do?” the minister said.

Many Egyptians are tired of protests that often turn violent, entrenching the mutual hatred between the security forces and a hard core of young revolutionaries who want the army to stand aside immediately to allow civilians to govern.

The latest clashes have sparked a furore in the parliament, where liberal politicians began a hunger strike on Tuesday to protest at the bloodshed. Some lawmakers described the protesters as “thugs”.

When speaker Mohamed Saad al-Katatni told the assembly that minister Ibrahim said no gunshot was fired at protesters, members of parliament applauded.

Mohamed Abou Hamed of the liberal Free Egyptians Party then stood up brandishing a gun cartridge and said “Here is the cartridge”, causing uproar in the chamber. (Additional reporting by Shaimaa Fayed, Yasmine Saleh, Tamim Elyan and Omar Fahmy; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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