Death toll passes 130 in football match stampede

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The Independent Online

Ghanaian football supporters blamed police yesterday for firing tear gas and provoking a stampede in an Accra stadium that left at least 130 people dead in Africa's worst football disaster.

Ghanaian football supporters blamed police yesterday for firing tear gas and provoking a stampede in an Accra stadium that left at least 130 people dead in Africa's worst football disaster.

Angry fans of the Asante Kotoko team began throwing plastic chairs and bottles on to the pitch five minutes before the end of the match as their team was losing 2-1 to their arch-rival, Hearts of Oak. Police responded by setting off tear gas, causing mass hysteria and creating a rush for the exit. But the gates were closed.

The people who reached both exit gates were crushed by the sheer force of thousands of other escaping fans. Some suffocated, others were trampled to death as they tripped and fell.

Harry Zakour, chief executive of Hearts of Oak, criticised police for their overreaction by firing up to a dozen tear gas canisters. "One would have been enough to scare the public," he said. Police launched an internal investigation yesterday into its officers' conduct at the match.

One supporter said: "The police should have climbed on to the stands to calm the people. If tear gas hadn't been used, there wouldn't have been such a calamitous accident."

Fans said the police seemed to panic and ignored supporters' appeals to cease firing the gas. The fans also criticised the police for failing to open the main exit gates to the 40,000- capacity stadium when the trouble started.

One victim, Ebenezer Nortey, an electrical technician lying on a bed at Accra's military hospital, said: "There were lots of people on top of me. One guy started foaming at the mouth and another had blood coming out of his mouth. There was a lot of weight on me because I was on the rail. My rib was against the rail. One guy behind me died."

The injured were taken to two local hospitals only minutes away from the ground. Almost all of the dead were men. Relatives besieged the hospital morgues yesterday, trying to find their loved ones. Scuffles broke out in hospital corridors when security staff tried to hold back the relations.

One woman was inconsolable. Strangers stopped her from collapsing, her voice hoarse from weeping opposite the mortuary. She had lost four brothers, according to her companion, who was struggling to contain her writhing body. The holding room in the emergency ward itself was a spectacle of heaped dead bodies, overflowing on to the pavements.

Ghanaian radio issued urgent appeals for doctors to report to work. The hospitals were overwhelmed by the influx of dead and wounded and are still trying to identify bodies with the help of volunteers.

The Interior Minister, Alhaji Malik, was seen mobilising help. President John Agyekum Kufuor, who was once the chairman of Kotoko, visited one hospital last night with the Vice-President and other ministers. One presidential aide could hardly speak, saying only: "It's horrifying."

The cabinet is expected to meet this morning to discuss the tragedy, which will be marked by a period of national mourning. The latest disaster could dash Africa's hopes of hosting the 2010 World Cup. Andreas Herren, a Fifa spokesman, said: "The fact that there has been a rise in such disasters in Africa is of course a cause for concern. But that does not mean Africa won't be considered. In the meantime, we should have the decency to let Ghana bury its dead."

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