Monday, March 30, 2009

Ivory Coast Football Fans Blame Police Teargas For Stampede That Killed 19; FIFA Demands Probe Into Incident

Ivory Coast fans blame police tear gas for stadium stampede that kills 19; FIFA demands probe

By BENOIT HILI , Associated Press
March 30, 2009 - 12:39 PM

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast - Fans who survived a deadly stadium stampede in the Ivory Coast blamed police Monday for the tragedy, saying security forces provoked the panic by tear gassing people who had nowhere to run.

World soccer body FIFA called for a prompt investigation into the stampede Sunday at Abidjan's Felix Houphouet-Boigny arena, which killed 19 people and injured over 130.

Tens of thousands of fans turned out to see Chelsea striker Didier Drogba — a native of Ivory Coast — as the home team squared off against Malawi at a World Cup qualifying match.

Interior Minister Desire Tagro said on state TV that fans outside the stadium before the game began pushing and shoving, setting off the panic. But witnesses said as fans tried to get into the stadium, police fired tear gas into the crowd, setting off the stampede.

The weight of the fans pushing forward caused a wall to come crashing down, according to an AP photographer and other witnesses. An Abidjan morgue listed 19 dead, and Tagro gave the number of injured as 132.

"We saw people falling from the top bleachers," said Diarassouba Adama, who was inside the stadium. "The stampede was provoked by the security forces who threw tear gas canisters at us. I don't know why they fired on us."

Relatives of the dead outside one of the capital's morgues agreed.

"My brother left to go to the stadium with his friends. At the entrance, they were attacked by security forces. That's what set off the stampede," Momodou Kamara said after identifying the body of his brother.

Women fainted with grief outside the morgue Monday and others sobbed as they held each other. Fathers and brothers stood, their eyes red with sorrow.

Morgue officials released the names of the 19 dead — including two children, one of whom was age 10. There was no immediate word Monday on the condition of the injured.

State TV announced that Prime Minister Guillaume Soro was holding an emergency cabinet meeting Monday to deal with the national tragedy.

The game took place Sunday despite the deaths and Ivory Coast won 5-0. It was the first match in the final stage of African qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

"We are all so sad about what happened and can only send our condolences to the family and friends of all those who died," said Drogba, who scored two goals for the Ivory Coast in the match.

The organizer of the next World Cup, meanwhile, pledged Monday there will be no stadium stampedes during Africa's first World Cup in 2010 or during the 2009 Confederations Cup, both being held in South Africa.

Danny Jordaan told reporters in Johannesburg that many African fans buy their tickets only when they reach the stadium, and delays often create impatient crowds outside.

"It triggers a stampede that leads to disaster," Jordaan said. "Those things will not occur in the Confederations Cup or the World Cup. It is impossible."

Jordaan said World Cup and Confederations Cup tickets will have to be purchased well in advance and those without tickets will be stopped far away from the stadiums.

He said stadium gates will open early, three hours before kickoff, and public transportation to stadiums will be improved — all to reduce anxious crowds.

Both he and FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter offered their condolences to the families.

If tear gas was to blame in Abidjan, it would be the fourth time since 2001 that police firing tear gas have set off deadly stadium stampedes in Africa.

In 2000, 13 fans died at a match in Zimbabwe after police fired tear gas into the crowd. A year later, at least 123 people died in Accra, Ghana, after security forces fired tear gas and seven other fans were crushed to death in a stampede in Lubumbashi, Congo, after police fired tear gas.

The worst stadium disaster in Africa was the Ghana stampede in 2001. The deadliest stadium disaster worldwide took place in Moscow in 1982, when 340 people were reportedly killed in fan stampede at a European Cup match.
Associated Press Writer Stuart Moir in Johannesburg and Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.

No comments: