By Sarah El Deeb
CAIRO -- Egypt's interior minister on Sunday declared he would not allow vigilantes or militias to take over police duties, while admitting his police force has been strained by daily protests, clashes and criticism.
Minister Mohammed Ibrahim was speaking a day after protesters rampaged through Cairo, furious over the acquittal of seven of nine police officers in a trial over soccer violence that left 74 people dead last year. Some 21 civilians received death sentences in the highly charged trial.
Protesters torched a police club and the soccer federation headquarters Saturday. Hundreds of rioters battled police along the Nile river boulevard in an area packed with hotels and diplomatic missions. Two people were killed. The clashes along the river continued Sunday.
There were also limited protests in Port Said, the Suez Canal city where the soccer stadium riot erupted in February 2012. The city was the scene of bloody clashes with police in the past week. They stopped this weekend after police evacuated their headquarters and the military took over.
The unrest coincides with an unprecedented wave of strikes by police over demands for better working conditions, as well as anger over alleged attempts by President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood to take control of the police force.
Ibrahim acknowledged that his force is under strain, but he insisted he will not allow vigilante groups to take over the duties of the force.
"From the minister to the youngest recruit in the force, we will not accept to have militias in Egypt," Ibrahim said. "That will be only when we are totally dead, finished."
His declaration followed a statement by a hard-line Islamist group that its members would take up policing duties in the southern province of Assiut because of strikes by local security forces. Lawmakers have raised the possibility of legalizing private security companies, granting them the right to arrest and detain.