Egypt’s military council announces start of presidential nominations on March 10

Port Said massacre sparks tension and riots in Cairo and other areas

Parliament debates developments as govt. sacks and suspends security officials

Fact-finding commission formed to investigate deadly incidents

Egyptian Football Association offers mass resignations

Candidates for Egypt's first presidential election since the ouster of veteran leader Hosni Mubarak can start registering from March 10, a month earlier than expected, the head of the elections committee said on Monday.

"Registration for the presidential election will begin on March 10," Farouq Sultan said, according to the state-run MENA news agency.

A member of the committee, Abdel-Moez Ibrahim, told Al-Ahram newspaper the decision was taken during a meeting with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) ruling Egypt since Mubarak's ouster last year.

"The military council, during a meeting this afternoon with the head of the committee and its members, asked that the elections be speeded up and that registration start as soon as possible," said Ibrahim.

"The only convenient date is March 10, after the Shura council vote," he said, referring to the upper house of parliament.

MENA also reported that SCAF chief Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi met the committee on Monday to discuss "the legal steps needed to open registration... and insisted on the need to speed up the process."

Last month, SCAF member Major General Mohsen al-Fangari said registration for Egypt's first post-revolution presidential election would start from April 15.

Attempts at bringing forward the date came as renewed clashes Monday in central Cairo between police and protesters angry at last week's deadly football violence left one person dead.

Activists, unhappy with the rule of SCAF, have repeatedly demanded that the military hand over power quickly to a civilian government.

Fangari said on January 16 that the registration is part of a roadmap drawn up by the SCAF for the presidential election to take place by June.

Tantawi pledged in November that the military will hand over power to civilian rule after the election.

Frontrunners in the presidential race include former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, a veteran Egyptian diplomat who was foreign minister under Mubarak, as well as Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotuh, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Nobel Prize laureate and ex-head of the UN atomic watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei decided in January to drop out of the race, complaining of a lack of democracy in Egypt despite Mubarak's ouster in a popular uprising last year.

Other candidates include Ahmad Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under Mubarak, as well as Salafist leader Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, Nasserite head Hamdeen Sabahi and Islamist independent figure Salim al-Awwa.

Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party scored a crushing victory in parliamentary elections, have said they will announce a consensus candidate for the presidential poll.

Once elections for the upper house are concluded in February, parliament will choose a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution, followed by the presidential election under the timetable set by Egypt's military rulers.

But there is a widespread belief that the SCAF will attempt to retain some sort of power after the transition.

The military has been the backbone of Egyptian politics ever since the fall of the monarchy in 1952, and every president since has emerged from the top ranks of the armed forces.

Egypt was thrust into a fresh crisis last night as security forces fired tear gas at protesters who returned to the streets of Cairo to demonstrate against the deaths of 74 football supporters on Wednesday.

In an emotionally charged day that followed Egypt's worse-ever sporting disaster, exacerbated by charges that security forces stood by and allowed rival fans to clash, nearly 10,000 gathered in Tahrir Square and outside the Interior Ministry, with some ripping down barbed wire around the building.

Resentment grew throughout the day as "ultra" supporters from Cairo's Al-Ahly -- one of Africa's most successful football clubs -- returned to the capital after Wednesday night's violence in Port Said that led to the club's fans being crushed to death trying to escape from the home Al-Masry supporters.

Hardcore groups of supporters of both Cairo's main clubs -- Al-Ahly and Zamalek -- were at the vanguard of those taking part in last year's revolution. "They want to punish us and execute us for our participation in the revolution against suppression," said the Al-Ahly ultras in a statement, vowing a "new war in defense of the revolution".

The protests had started as a peaceful march from Al-Ahly's headquarters to the area outside the ministry building near Tahrir Square.

Security forces guarding the area were separated from protesters by concrete blocks and barbed wire, but tensions rose as protesters advanced toward them, removing some of the barriers and hurling stones. Police responded with tear gas, sending demonstrators running. There were reports last night that gunshots had also been heard.

In scenes reminiscent of the clashes with police in November which left 40 people dead, protesters set tires alight and motorcycles ferried some of those wounded to hospital as ambulances were unable to get through. Egyptian state TV said 100 people had passed out from the tear gas.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the protesters had cut the barbed wire and crossed over the concrete blocks to reach the roads leading to the headquarters. It urged the protesters "to listen to the sound of wisdom . . . at these critical moments".

In Port Said, it was becoming clear how so many people ended up dying when home supporters charged on to the pitch following their team's victory.

One of the main exits in the stadium's eastern end -- a narrow, downward-sloping stepped corridor about 12ft wide -- was padlocked shut with a ceiling-high iron gate throughout the match.

As Al-Masry supporters charged towards the stand after the final whistle -- many wielding sticks and knives -- thousands of visiting Cairo fans fled into the corridor, the only way out for half of the people at the eastern end.

Doctors in Port Said yesterday said that most of those who perished in the crush died of asphyxiation. Hundreds more were rushed to hospital suffering from multiple fractures, caused as masses of people scrambled to escape the frenzy.

According to one health ministry official, all of the deaths were caused by stab wounds, brain hemorrhage and concussions, but Dr Mohammad Salah, who was working at Port Said's El-Amiri Hospital on Wednesday night, said none of the 31 bodies which arrived at his hospital had knife injuries.

The interior ministry said one policeman was killed, while a health official in Port Said claimed 1,000 people had been injured.

Egyptians incensed by the deaths of 74 people in soccer violence staged protests in central Cairo on Thursday as the army-led government came under fire for failing to prevent the deadliest incident since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

Addressing angry lawmakers in parliament, the military-appointed prime minister said senior security chiefs in Port Said and the city's governor had been suspended and the soccer federation's board had been sacked. But he disappointed those seeking tougher steps, such as sacking the interior minister.

Young men blocked roads in Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square in protest, and a crowd gathered at the city's main rail station hoping to see relatives returning from the game in Port Said, a city at the mouth of the Suez Canal on the Mediterranean coast.

As bodies from Egypt's worst soccer disaster were unloaded from trains, covered by blankets, thousands chanted "Down with military rule".

"Where is my son?" screamed Fatma Kamal, whose frantic phone calls seeking news of her 18-year-old had gone unanswered. "To hell with the football match ... Give me back my boy."

At least 1,000 people were injured in the violence on Wednesday evening when soccer fans invaded the pitch after local team al-Masry beat visitors from Cairo's Al-Ahly, the most successful football club in Africa.

Hundreds of al-Masry supporters surged across the pitch to the visitors' end and panicked Ahly fans dashed for the exit. But the steel doors were bolted shut and dozens were crushed to death in the stampede, witnesses said.

"I suddenly heard a commotion and ran to the door to find people getting crushed ... with their legs stuck in between the iron bars," said Ahmed Moustafa Ali, an electrician employed at the stadium who witnessed the incident.

"The doors were locked because the rules stipulate that we don't let fans leave at the same time," he said.

The gate lay broken outside the ground. Under it lay a pool of blood and shoes were scattered around. The front page of one Egyptian newspaper declared "A Massacre in Port Said".

In the newly elected parliament, MPs demanded the government be held to account during an emergency session attended by Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri.

Some echoed the suspicion of many Egyptians that the incident was the work of remnants of the Mubarak administration trying to derail reform.

The MPs voted to launch an investigation into what happened and lodge a formal complaint with the military against Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, accusing him of negligence.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, headed by Mubarak's long-time defense minister, vowed to track down the culprits and declared three days of national mourning.

"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," Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council, told Al Ahly's TV channel.

But the incident focused new criticism on the generals, who have vowed to steer Egypt towards democracy but are seen by critics as an extension of Mubarak's rule and an obstacle to real reform.

"The military council lost its legitimacy today given the blood that has been shed," Mustafa Naggar, an MP from the Justice Party, said in parliament.

Tantawi voiced deep regret over the incident and offered condolences to the families of the victims.

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

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

In Egypt's second city of Alexandria, thousands echoed their cry.

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 talking on a mobile phone as people poured onto the field.

"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.

Some saw the violence as orchestrated to target the "Ultras", Al-Ahly 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.

Yet many Egyptians still see the army as the only guarantor of security. When one activist in a 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.

Some blamed the violence on "thugs", the hired hands or plain clothes police officers of 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 Farouq 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 favor.

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

"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-Ahly 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.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said 47 people were arrested and Prime Minister Ganzouri held an emergency meeting of his security council.

Egypt's football federation said it was indefinitely postponing matches in the premier league. Al-Ahly club suspended all sports activities and declared three days of mourning.