Indonesian police came under mounting criticism Sunday after 125 people died in a stampede at a football stadium where officers fired teargas on angry fans invading the pitch.
The tragedy on Saturday night in the city of Malang, which also left 323 injured according to police, was one of the world’s deadliest sporting stadium disasters.
Police, who described the unrest as riots, said they tried to force fans to return to the stands and fired tear gas after two officers were killed.
Arema football coach Javier Roca on Sunday said that fans had even “died in the arms of players,” after some of the team stayed on the pitch when the game ended.
“I think the police overstepped their mark, even though I wasn’t out there and didn’t experience the outcome,” the Chilean coach told Spanish broadcaster Cadena Ser.
“Officers fired tear gas, and automatically people were rushing to come out, pushing each other and it caused many victims,” 43-year-old spectator Doni, who declined to give his last name, told AFP.
People carried injured spectators through the chaos and survivors lugged lifeless bodies out of the stadium.
“People were pushing each other and… many were trampled on their way to the exit gate. My eyes were burning because of the tear gas. I fortunately managed to climb up the fence and survived,” he said.
“Some names were recorded twice because they had been referred to another hospital and were written down again,” he said, citing data collected by local police from 10 hospitals.
A hospital director told local TV that one of the victims was five years old.
Images taken from inside the stadium during the stampede additionally showed police firing huge amounts of tear gas and people clambering over fences.
– Enduring violence –
The stadium holds 42,000 people and authorities said it was a sell-out. Police said 3,000 people stormed the pitch.
Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya are longtime rivals.
However Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Mahfud MD, said organisers ignored a recommendation to print fewer tickets and hold the match in the afternoon instead of the evening.
And in Jakarta as many as 300 football fans gathered for a candlelit vigil outside the Gelora Bung Karno stadium.
The football world mourned the disaster with Gianni Infantino, president of world football governing body FIFA, calling the stampede “a tragedy beyond comprehension”.
The Asian Football Confederation, as well as the German football association and Italy’s Serie A, all expressed their regret.
FIFA’s safety guidelines prohibit the carrying of crowd control gas by police or stewards at pitchside.
In 1964, 320 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured during a stampede at a Peru-Argentina Olympic qualifier at Lima’s National Stadium.