Fans die in African football stampede

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The Independent Online

An investigation is to be launched into the death of 12 football fans in a stampede after police fired tear gas into the crowd during South Africa's World Cup qualifying match with Zimbabwe in Harare yesterday.

An investigation is to be launched into the death of 12 football fans in a stampede after police fired tear gas into the crowd during South Africa's World Cup qualifying match with Zimbabwe in Harare yesterday.

Spectators threw bottles and other items on to the field after South Africa had scored their second goal in the 84th minute of the match.

Officers fired tear gas at the crowd of more than 50,000, and a stampede broke out as the fans scrambled to leave the National Sports Stadium. Zimbabwean and South African players lay face down on the pitch, choking and covering their faces.

"We have 12 bodies," said a police officer at Harare's main Parirenyapwa hospital. Medical personnel said later the death toll could rise.

Officials at the game were outraged by the police action, which they called a "total over-reaction", the South African Press Association reported.

Some reports suggested that police were being taunted by fans who gave the salute of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and challenged officers over their failure to stop political violence.

The world football governing body, Fifa, must now decide what action to take and is to hold urgent talks with the Zimbabwean authorities.

The former Premiership striker John Fashanu, who was commentating on the match, said enemies of African football would be quick to make capital of events in Harare. "Football is a passion, a carnival. There was no need for this. Those who oppose the development of African football will use footage from Harare to maximum advantage," he said.

Viewers throughout Africa watched a live broadcast of the match, which Zimbabwe had to win to avoid relegation from the Africa Zone Group E qualifying series. Though the game was abandoned before full-time, South Africa's 2-0 win will remain the official score.

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