At least 174 people died and hundreds more were injured after police fired tear gas to disperse rioting football fans in Indonesia, in one of the world’s worst stadium tragedies.
The disaster on Saturday night at the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang city prompted Indonesian President Joko Widodo to order the suspension of the top-flight Liga 1 competition pending a review.
Most of the victims died of a lack of oxygen during a stampede after thousands of fans invaded the pitch as hosts Arema FC lost 3-2 to rival East Java club Persebaya Surabaya, provincial police chief Nico Afinta said.
“We regret and deplore the tragedy,” Afinta told a press conference on Sunday, saying two officers were among the dead.
He said there were few Persebaya fans as they were banned from attending the match in East Java province given the fierce rivalry between the two clubs in the country’s top-tier Liga 1.
“We had suggested that the match be attended by Arema fans only,” he said.
At least 174 people were killed and more than 300 people injured, some seriously, said Budi Santoso, the head of the provincial civil protection agency. The death toll steadily ticked up over the course of Sunday.
The riot also spread outside of the stadium. Eight vehicles were torched and parts of the stadium were badly damaged, he said in a statement.
Witnesses told local television that police chased spectators who invaded the pitch, forcing them to return to the stands.
“When we came back to the stands, police fired tear gas. We scrambled to get out to the exit. It was crowded, hot and suffocating,” Dani, whose two relatives died in the melee, told Kompas TV.
Another spectator, Gilang, said chaos started after police used violence to stop pitch invaders.
“The police’s action was excessive. Why did they have to fire tear gas at people in the stands who didn’t do anything,” he said.
President Widodo called for a “thorough” investigation.
“I have also ordered PSSI [the Indonesian Football Association] to stop Liga 1 temporarily until an evaluation and improvements have been made,” he added.
The president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, offered his condolences to the families of the victims.
“I am deeply shocked and saddened to hear such tragic news coming out of football-loving Indonesia,” he said in a statement.
“The thoughts and prayers of the Asian football family are with the football family of Indonesia during this very difficult moment,” he said.
The PSSI said in a statement earlier that Arema would not host any more games for the rest of the season.
A team had been formed to investigate the incident, the PSSI said.
“We regret the action of Arema supporters at Kanjuruhan Stadium,” PSSI chief Mochamad Iriawan said.
“We offer condolences and apologize to the victims’ families and all parties for the incident,” he said.
Afinta, the police chief, said security personnel followed procedures when they fired tear gas after about 3,000 fans invaded the pitch.
“If the fans had followed the rules, this incident would not have happened,” he said.
Security personnel are banned from using crowd-control gas and firearms at stadiums under FIFA stadium safety and security regulations.
” The Indonesia Football Association may have been negligent for not informing the police that security procedures at a soccer match are not the same as those at a demonstration,” he added.
Witnesses said fans were not attacking rival supporters. Rather, they were demonstrating their disappointment over the loss at the players and officials as they left the pitch.
Clashes among rival fans, sometimes fatal, are common in the football-mad country, where matches are regularly attended by tens of thousands of people.
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