The Indonesian police chief and nine elite officers were removed from their posts on Monday, and 18 others were investigated on suspicion of being responsible for a tear gas launch at a soccer stadium that caused panic, killing at least 125 people, officials said.
Distraught family members struggled to comprehend the loss of their loved ones, including 17 children, during a match in Malang, East Java, attended only by Arema FC fans from their hometown. The organizer banned fans of the visiting team, Persebay Surabaya, due to the history of brutal football competitions in Indonesia.
Saturday night’s disaster was one of the deadliest ever during a sports event.
Arema’s players and officials laid wreaths in front of the stadium on Monday.
“We came here as a team, asking forgiveness from families affected by this tragedy, those who have lost their loved ones or those who are still being treated in hospital,” said head coach Javier Roca.
On Monday evening, around 1,000 fans dressed in black shirts stood by candlelight at the soccer stadium in the satellite city of Bekasi, Jakarta, to pray for the victims of the disaster.
Witnesses said some of Arema’s 42,000 supporters took to the field on Saturday in anger after the team lost 3-2, the first home defeat to Persebay in 23 years. Some threw bottles and other objects at players and soccer activists. At least five police vehicles were overturned and set on fire in front of the stadium.
But most of the d*aths occurred when riot police fired tear gas in an attempt to contain the violence, including in the stands, triggering a catastrophic panic from fans who began a panicked, chaotic run to the exits. Most of the 125 people who died were trampled or strangled to d*ath. Two policemen were among the victims.
At least 17 children were among the deceased and seven were treated in hospitals, the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection said. Police said 323 people have been injured in the crush and some are still in critical condition.
National Police spokesman Dedy Prasetyo said Malang Police Chief Ferli Hidayat has been removed along with nine members of the elite mobile police brigade and may be fired in a police ethics process.
He said 18 officers responsible for firing tear gas, from medium to high level, were tracked.
Police interview witnesses and analyze video from 32 security cameras inside and outside the stadium and nine cell phones belonging to victims as part of the investigation, which will also identify suspected vandals.
Parents and other relatives of Faiqotul Hikmah, 22, cried out on Monday when an ambulance arrived at their home with a body wrapped in white cloth and a black blanket. She died while escaping to exit 12 at Kanjuruhan Stadium.
A dozen friends came with her to see the game, but Hikmah was one of only four who managed to enter the stadium as tickets were sold out, her friend Abdul Mukid said on Monday. He later bought a ticket from a broker after hearing about the chaos in the stadium to look for Hikman.
“I have to find her, save her,” recalled Mukid’s thinking.
Mukid found Hikmah’s body lying in a building within the stadium grounds, with broken ribs and bluish bruises on the face. He learned that the other friend had also died from other friends who called him while he was going in the ambulance taking Hikmah’s body to the hospital.
“I can’t put into words how much I feel sorry to lose my sister,” said Nur Laila, Hikmah’s older sibling. “She was just a huge fan of Arema who wanted to watch her favorite team play. She shouldn’t be dying for just that, she said, wiping her tears away.
President Joko Widodo has ordered the suspension of Premier League pending a reassessment of security and tightening security. The Indonesian soccer association also banned Arema from hosting soccer matches until the end of the season.
Arema FC president Gilang Widya Pramana expressed his sadness and deepest apologies to the victims and people of Indonesia and said he was ready to take full responsibility for the tragedy at his team’s stadium.
He said the management, coach and players were shocked and speechless.
“I am ready to help, even if it may not bring the victims back to life,” Pramana said at a press conference on Monday at Arema’s Malang headquarters.
“This incident was beyond anticipation, for no reason … in a match watched only by our fans, not one rival fan,” he said, sobbing. “How can this match kill more than 100 people?”
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He said Arema FC stands ready to accept any sanctions from the Football Association of Indonesia and the government and “hope this will be a very valuable lesson.”
Security Minister Mohammad Mahfud said he would lead an investigation that would investigate violations of the law during the crash and make recommendations to the president to improve safety in football. The investigation is expected to close in three weeks.
Mahfud instructed the national police and military chiefs to punish those who committed the crimes and actions that caused the panic.
“The government called on the national police to evaluate security procedures,” Mahfud said at a press conference.
Amnesty International’s rights group called on Indonesia to investigate the use of tear gas and ensure that those found responsible are tried in an open court. Although FIFA has no control over national competitions, it advises against the use of tear gas in football stadiums.
Despite Indonesia’s lack of international position in the sport, hooliganism is common in a soccer-obsessed country where fanaticism often ends in violence. Data from the Indonesian football regulator, Save Our Soccer, showed that 78 people have died in match-related incidents in the last 28 years.
Saturday’s game was one of the world’s worst spectacular disasters in sports, including the 1996 World Cup qualifiers between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala, where over 80 were killed and over 100 injured. In April 2001, more than 40 people were crushed during a soccer match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa. In February 2012, 74 people were killed and over 500 injured after a match between rivals al-Masra and al-Ahly, when thousands of al-Masra supporters att*cked the pitch and att*cked visiting fans. As a result, the Egyptian League was suspended for two years.
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