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At least 125 killed as tear gas triggers crush at Indonesian football match

Police officers and soldiers stand in tear gas smoke at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, Indonesia (Yudha Prabowo/AP)
Police officers and soldiers stand in tear gas smoke at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java, Indonesia (Yudha Prabowo/AP)

At least 125 people died in the panic and chaotic run for exits after police fired tear gas at an Indonesian football match to drive away fans upset with their team’s loss.

Most of the people who died were trampled on or suffocated, making it one of the deadliest sports events in the world.

Attention immediately focused on the police use of tear gas, and witnesses described officers beating them with sticks and shields before shooting canisters directly into the crowds.

The president of Fifa called the deaths at the stadium “a dark day for all involved in football and a tragedy beyond comprehension”, while President Joko Widodo ordered an investigation into security procedures. While Fifa has no control over domestic games, it has advised against the use of tear gas at football stadiums.

Violence broke out after the game ended on Saturday evening with host Arema FC of East Java’s Malang city losing to Persebaya of Surabaya 3-2.

Disappointed with their team’s loss, thousands of supporters of Arema, known as “Aremania”, reacted by throwing bottles and other objects at players and football officials.

Witnesses said fans flooded the Kanjuruhan Stadium pitch and demanded that Arema management explain why, after 23 years of undefeated home matches against Persebaya, this one had ended in a loss.

Football fans run onto the pitch
Football fans run onto the pitch at Kanjuruhan Stadium (Yudha Prabowo/AP)

The violence spread outside the stadium where at least five police vehicles were toppled and set ablaze. Riot police responded by firing tear gas, including towards the stadium’s stands, causing panic among the crowd.

Spectator Ahmad Fatoni said police had started beating fans with sticks and shields, and that they had fought back.

“Officers fired tear gas directly at spectators in the stands, forcing us to run toward the exit,” he said. “Many victims fell because of shortness of breath and difficulty seeing due to tear gas and were trampled.”

He said he had climbed on to the roof of the stands and only came down after the situation had calmed down.

An injured man is carried at the stadium
Fans carry an injured man following clashes (Yudha Prabowo/AP)

Others suffocated and were trampled as hundreds of people ran to the exit to avoid the tear gas.

In the chaos, 34 died at the stadium, including two officers, and some reports included children among the casualties.

“We have already done a preventive action before finally firing the tear gas as (fans) began to attack the police, acting anarchically and burning vehicles,” East Java police chief Nico Afinta said in a news conference early on Sunday.

More than 300 people were rushed to hospitals but many died on the way and during treatment, Mr Afinta said.

Damaged police vehicles at Kanjuruhan Stadium
Damaged police vehicles at the stadium (Trisnadi/AP)

National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo said the death toll had been revised to 125 from 174, after authorities found some of the victims had been counted twice. More than 100 people were receiving intensive treatment in eight hospitals, 11 of them in a critical condition.

Indonesia’s football association, known as PSSI, suspended the premier football league Liga 1 indefinitely in light of the tragedy and banned Arema from hosting football matches for the remainder of the season.

Television reports showed police and rescuers evacuating the injured and carrying the dead to ambulances.

Grieving relatives waited for information about their loved ones at Malang’s Saiful Anwar General Hospital. Others tried to identify the bodies laid at a morgue while medical workers put identification tags on the victims’ bodies.

Women weep after receiving confirmation that their family member is among those killed in the incident
Women weep after receiving confirmation their family member is among those killed (Dicky Bisinglasi/AP)

“I deeply regret this tragedy and I hope this is the last soccer tragedy in this country, don’t let another human tragedy like this happen in the future,” Mr Widodo said in a televised speech.

He ordered the youth and sports minister, the national police chief and the PSSI chair to conduct a thorough evaluation of the country’s football and its security procedure.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino expressed condolences on behalf of the global football community in a statement, saying “the football world is in a state of shock”.