At least, 32 children died in Indonesia’s stadium pandemonium, an official said Monday as police moved to punish those responsible for one of the deadliest disasters in football history.
The tragedy on Saturday night in the city of Malang saw a total of 125 people killed and 323 others injured after officers fired tear gas in a packed stadium to quell a pitch invasion, triggering a stampede.
Dozens of children caught in the chaos lost their lives, an official at the women’s empowerment and child protection ministry told AFP.
“From the latest data we received, out of 125 people who died in the accident, 32 of them were children, with the youngest being a toddler age three or four,” said Nahar, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.
As anger mounted against the police, Indonesia’s chief security minister Mahfud MD announced a task force had been formed to investigate and called for those responsible to be punished.
“We asked (police) to unveil who has perpetrated the crimes and take action against them and we also hope the national police will evaluate their security procedures,” he said in a broadcast statement.
The police force sacked its local chief in Malang within hours of the minister’s speech.
East Java police also suspended nine officers on the instruction of the national police force, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told a press conference, without providing details about their role in the tragedy.
With police and sports officials on their way to Malang to investigate, Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) levelled criticism at officers.
“If there was no tear gas, maybe there wouldn’t have been chaos,” commissioner Choirul Anam told a briefing.
Saturday’s incident unfolded when fans of home team Arema FC stormed the pitch at the Kanjuruhan stadium after their loss 3-2 to bitter rivals Persebaya Surabaya.
Police responded by launching tear gas into packed terraces, prompting spectators to rush en masse to small gates where many were trampled or suffocated, according to witnesses.
“It felt like people were packed into a small tube with a tiny hole, and then they were smoked,” said 29-year-old spectator Ahmad Rizal Habibi, who escaped before the crush.
Police described the incident as a riot and said two officers were killed, but survivors accuse them of overreacting and causing the deaths of scores of spectators.