Indonesian police say at least 129 people have been killed and dozens injured after a crowd stampede during a riot at a football match in the province of East Java.
In a statement on Sunday, police said supporters of Arema FC stormed the pitch at a stadium in the eastern city of Malang after their team lost 3-2 to Persebaya Surabaya on Saturday night.
Police said they tried to persuade fans to return to the stands and fired tear gas to control “riots” after two officers were killed. Hundreds of fans then ran to an exit gate in an effort to avoid the tear gas. Some suffocated in the chaos and many were trampled to death.
“Thirty-four people died inside the stadium and the rest died in hospital,” said East Java Police Chief Nico Afinta.
The death toll is likely still increasing, he said, since many of about 180 injured victims’ conditions were deteriorating.
A hospital director told local television that one of the victims was five years old.
Video footage from local news channels showed fans streaming onto the pitch in the stadium in the Kanjurujan stadium in Malang after Arema FC lost to Persebaya Surabaya. Scuffles can be seen, with what appeared to be tear gas in the air. Images also showed people who appeared to have lost consciousness being carried away by other fans.
The stadium holds 42,000 people and authorities said it was a sell-out. Police said about 3,000 people had stormed the pitch. Vehicles outside the stadium were also torched. These include a police truck.
The Indonesian government has apologised for the incident and promised to investigate the circumstances surrounding the stampede.
“We’re sorry for this incident… this is a regrettable incident that ‘injures’ our football at a time when supporters can watch football matches from the stadium,” Indonesian Sports and Youth Minister Zainudin Amali told broadcaster Kompas. “We will thoroughly evaluate the organisation of the match and the attendance of supporters. Will we return to banning supporters from attending the matches? That is what we will discuss.”
BRI Liga 1 suspended
Fan violence is an enduring problem in Indonesia, with a strong rivalry between clubs sometimes leading to violence among supporters. Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya are long time rivals and the latter team’s fans were not allowed to buy tickers for Saturday’s game due to fears of violence.
Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Mahfud MD, said organisers had ignored the recommendation of authorities to hold the match in the afternoon instead of the evening. He also said the government had recommended only 38,000 tickets be printed, but there was instead a sell-out crowd of 42,000.
“The government has made improvements to the implementation of football matches… and will continue to improve. But this sport, which is a favourite of the wider community, often provokes supporters to express emotions suddenly,” he said in an Instagram post.
The Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) suspended football matches of Indonesia’s top league, BRI Liga 1, for one week.
It also banned Arema FC from hosting home games for the rest of the season and said it would send an investigation team to Malang to establish the cause of the crush.
“We’re sorry and apologise to families of the victims and all parties over the incident,” PSSI Chairman Mochamad Iriawan said.
The tragedy comes as Indonesia is scheduled to host the FIFA under-20 World Cup in May and June next year. They are also one of three countries bidding to stage next year’s Asian Cup, the continent’s equivalent of the Euros, after China pulled out as hosts.
Al Jazeera’s Jessica Washington, reporting from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, said Saturday’s disaster was “historic”.
“Violence and riots are a common occurence at football matches in Indonesia, but we have never seen something like this before,” she said. “This is a historic tragedy, not only for football in Indonesia, but football internationally. This is one of the biggest tragedies the sport has seen, in terms of fan violence, in terms of deaths of fans at a match,” she added.
Other stadium disasters include a 1964 crush at a Peru-Argentina Olympic qualifier at Lima’s National Stadium that killed some 320 people, and the 2012 Port Said stadium tragedy in Egypt where 74 people died in clashes.
In 1989, some 96 Liverpool supporters were crushed to death in the United Kingdom, when an overcrowded and fenced-in enclosure collapsed at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield.
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