Police chief, others removed over soccer disaster
An Indonesian police chief and nine elite officers were removed from their posts on Monday, and 18 others were being investigated for responsibility in the firing of tear gas inside a soccer stadium that set off a stampede, killing at least 125 people, officials said.
Distraught family members were struggling to comprehend the loss of their loved ones, including 17 children, at the match in East Java’s Malang city that was attended only by hometown Arema FC fans. The organiser had banned supporters of the visiting team, Persebaya Surabaya, because of Indonesia’s history of violent soccer rivalries.
The disaster on Saturday night was among the deadliest ever at a sporting event.
Arema players and officials laid wreaths on Monday in front of the stadium.
“We came here as a team asking forgiveness from the families impacted by this tragedy, those who lost their loves ones or the ones still being treated in the hospital,” head coach Javier Roca said.
On Monday night, about a thousand soccer fans dressed in black shirts held a candlelight vigil at a soccer stadium in Jakarta’s satellite city of Bekasi to pray for the victims of the disaster.
Witnesses said some of the 42,000 Arema fans ran onto the pitch in anger on Saturday after the team was defeated 3-2, its first loss at home against Persebaya in 23 years. Some threw bottles and other objects at players and soccer officials. At least five police vehicles were toppled and set ablaze outside the stadium.
But most of the deaths occurred when riot police, trying to stop the violence, fired tear gas, including in the stands, triggering a disastrous stampede of fans making a panicked, chaotic run for the exits. Most of the 125 people who died were trampled or suffocated. The victims included two police officers.
At least 17 children were among the dead and seven were being treated in hospitals, the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection said. Police said 323 people were injured in the crush, with some still in critical condition.
President Joko Widodo ordered the premier soccer league suspended until safety is re-evaluated and security tightened. Indonesia’s soccer association also banned Arema from hosting soccer matches for the rest of the season.
Arema FC President Gilang Widya Pramana expressed his sadness and deepest apologies to the victims and the Indonesian people, and said he is ready to take full responsibility for the tragedy at his team’s stadium.
He said the management, coach and players were in shock, and speechless.
“I am ready to provide assistance, even though it will not be able to return the victims’ lives,” Pramana said at a news conference on Monday at Arema’s headquarters in Malang.
Rights group Amnesty International urged Indonesia to investigate the use of tear gas and ensure that those found responsible are tried in open court. While FIFA has no control over domestic games, it has advised against the use of tear gas at soccer stadiums.
Despite Indonesia’s lack of international prominence in the sport, hooliganism is rife in the soccer-obsessed country where fanaticism often ends in violence. Data from Indonesia’s soccer watchdog, Save Our Soccer, showed 78 people have died in game-related incidents over the past 28 years.
Saturday’s game was among the world’s worst crowd disasters in sports, including a 1996 World Cup qualifier between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City in which over 80 died and more than 100 were injured.