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Oct. 2, 2022, 10:24 a.m. EDT

125 dead after police fire tear gas into crowd of Indonesian soccer fans

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By Associated Press

MALANG, Indonesia — Panic and a chaotic run for exits after police fired tear gas at an Indonesian soccer match to drive away fans upset with their team’s loss left at least 125 dead, most of whom were trampled upon 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 police 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 of security procedures. While FIFA has no control over domestic games, it has advised against the use of tear gas at soccer stadiums.

Violence broke out  after the game ended 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 soccer 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 ended in a loss.

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 toward the stadium’s stands, causing panic among the crowd.

Ahmad Fatoni, a spectator, said police had started beating the fans with sticks and shields, and they 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 climbed the roof of the stands and only came down when the situation calmed down.

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 include 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 Sunday.

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

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

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

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 tag on the bodies of the victims.

“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,” Widodo said in a televised speech. “We must continue to maintain sportsmanship, humanity and a sense of brotherhood of the Indonesian nation.”

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

Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali expressed regrets that “this tragedy happened when we were preparing for soccer game activities, both national and international level.”

Indonesia is due to host the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup from May 20 to June 11, with 24 participating teams. As the host, the country automatically qualifies for the cup.

“Unfortunately, this incident has certainly injured our soccer image,” Amali said.

In a statement, FIFA President Gianni Infantino expressed condolences on behalf of the global football community, saying “the football world is in a state of shock.” The statement did not mention the use of tear gas.

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