Swaying bridge 'set off Cambodian stampede'

A swaying bridge loaded with thousands of people sparked mass panic and set off a raging stampede that killed more than 350 people in Cambodia's capital, according to a government investigation. Crowds celebrating a water festival had flocked to an island for a free concert on Monday and spilled on to a bridge to the mainland before the panic took hold.

Bayon TV, which serves as a mouthpiece for the government, reported yesterday that a committee found many people on the span were from the countryside and unaware it was normal for a suspension bridge to sway. Fearing it was collapsing, they tried running to get off it.

The Information Minister, Khieu Kanharith, said the official death toll was 351, with 395 injured, though one government ministry said there could be more than 450 dead.

Prime Minister Hun Sen described the stampede as the biggest tragedy since the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror, which killed an estimated 1.7 million people in the late 1970s. He declared a day of national mourning for today. Thousands of Cambodians yesterday lit candles and made offerings to appease the victims' souls.