At least 40 people were killed and dozens injured Sunday after clashes broke out in Cairo between police and supporters of the Zamalek soccer club, Egyptian medical sources said.
Violence erupted Sunday night when police tried to set up barricades and used tear gas to disperse fans trying to enter an army-owned stadium in the city's northeast on Sunday, witnesses said.
The fans accused security forces of a "massacre,” but police denied using violence to try and pacify the crowd. Many of the dead appeared to have died of suffocation after a stampede erupted.
On Monday the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, sought to deflect blame from the security forces. Prominent pro-government commentator Ahmed Moussa warned against calling the victims "martyrs," saying they attempted to break the law.
"Thugs cannot be martyrs," he said late Sunday on television.
Egypt's public prosecutor ordered that a probe to start immediately, while the incident prompted the government to postpone the Egyptian Premier League indefinitely, the prime minister's office said in a statement.
The Interior Ministry said the clashes occurred after supporters of Zamalek, known as Ultras White Knights, tried to attend the game without buying tickets.
"Huge numbers of Zamalek club fans came to Air Defense Stadium to attend the match ... and tried to storm the stadium gates by force, which prompted the troops to prevent them from continuing the assault," the ministry said.
The deaths have revived criticism of police tactics in Egypt less than a month after a woman was shot dead during the dispersal of peaceful protests marking the anniversary of the 2011 uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak.
The fans posted on their group's official Facebook page that the violence began after authorities opened only one narrow, barbed-wire door to let them into the stadium. They said that sparked pushing and shoving, which led police officers to fire tear gas and birdshot.
"The police were in front and behind the gate,” a witness, who requested anonymity, told Al Jazeera. “They fired tear gas. This caused panic and people fell on top of each other. We started to leave quickly. There were old people in the crowd and they were crushed by other fans.”
Ultras have often clashed with security forces in and outside of stadiums, and as well as in the context of political protests, with police accused of using excessive force while confronting them.
Following riots in Port Said in 2012, when 72 people were killed in fighting between soccer supporters, the number of people allowed to attend matches has been curbed and supporters have often tried to storm stadiums they are banned from entering.
Al Jazeera and wire services