At least 174 football fans died Saturday night after a professional football match in Malang, Indonesia, when fans rushed the field, prompting the police to fire tear gas into tightly packed crowds, causing many to be trampled, the New York Times reports.
After Arema football club lost 3-2 to Persebaya Surabaya in Indonesia league, dozens of fans rushed the field at Kanjuruhan Stadium, Arema’s home.
Reacting to the incident Inspector General Nico Afinta, the East Java Police chief, said at a news conference that the unrest prompted the police to fire tear gas, which caused panic.
There was confusion about the death toll — the government-backed National Human Rights Commission said 153 people died, while the Arema football club put the number at 182.
Human rights organizations have condemned the use of tear gas, but the police called it necessary in this case, saying that fans were attacking officers. The use of the chemical is prohibited by FIFA, soccer’s global governing body.
Eyewitnesses have said that the gas was at times fired indiscriminately into the stands, forcing the overcapacity crowd to rush for the exits.
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In a televised speech to the nation, Indonesia President Joko Widodo said he had asked the national police chief to do a thorough investigation into what happened. He said he had also ordered the minister of youth and sports, the national police chief and the chairman of Indonesia’s football association to evaluate security at football matches.
“I regret that this tragedy occurred,” Joko said. “And I hope this is the last football tragedy in the country.”
In a statement, Indonesia’s Legal Aid Foundation said “the excessive use of force through the use of tear gas and inappropriate crowd control was the cause of the large number of fatalities.”
Afinta, defended the use of tear gas, saying it was deployed “because there was anarchy.”
“They were about to attack the officers and had damaged the cars,” he said.
Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation said the problem was made worse by the overcapacity. Mahfud MD, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, said that the local football committee had printed 42,000 tickets, more than the stadium’s 38,000 capacity.
He said the victims died “because of the stampede.” They were trampled on and suffocated to death, he said. “There were no victims of beatings or mistreatment of the supporters,” he said.
The medical team carried out rescue efforts in the stadium and then evacuated others to several hospitals, Afinta said at the news conference.