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19 dead as stadium erupts in stampede

WOMEN fainted with grief and wailed in sorrow yesterday outside a morgue in Cote d'Ivoire's Abidjan where the bodies of the 19 soccer fans killed in a weekend stadium stampede were being held.

Mothers and sisters of the dead sobbed as they held each other, while fathers and brothers stood, their eyes red with sorrow.

World soccer body FIFA demanded an investigation into Sunday's tragedy and the country's prime minister convened an emergency Cabinet meeting yesterday to look into the stampede that also left at least 132 injured at a World Cup qualifying match.

Thousands of fans at the capital's main Felix Houphouet-Boigny arena pushed against each other before Sunday's game between Cote d'Ivoire and Malawi, setting off a panic that led to the stampede, Interior Minister Desire Tagro said.

The melee prompted security forces to fire tear gas, which witnesses say forced fans to hurl themselves toward the field, causing a wall to come down and setting off a stampede. The game took place despite the deaths, and C?¥te d'Ivoire won 5-0.

Sunday's game drew tens of thousands because of the presence of Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, a native of C?¥te d'Ivoire who is seen as superstar in his home country. Drogba scored twice in the victory.

At the downtown morgue, family members were told to identify the dead. The morgue showed reporters a list of 19 names - including two children, the younger of whom was aged 10.

Momodou Kamara, who waited outside the morgue, blamed police for his brother's death.

"My brother left to go to the stadium with his friends. At the entrance, they were attacked by security forces. That's what set off the stampede," he said.

Diarassouba Adama, who was inside the stadium at the time, also blamed police for the deadly tragedy.

"We saw people falling from the top bleachers. The stampede was provoked by the security forces who threw tear gas canisters at us. I don't know why they fired on us," he said outside the morgue.

In Zurich, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter offered his condolences and also demanded a full investigation into the stampede. It was the first match in the final stage of African qualifying for the 2010 World Cup being played in South Africa.


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