JAKARTA – It was the final stages of the match, a football derby in the Indonesian province of East Java, and 29-year-old spectator Ahmad Nizar Habibi said he had a feeling things were about to go bad.
“I wanted to leave, but suddenly I heard an explosion,” he said, describing the volleys of tear gas fired as Saturday night’s game ended and fans flooded the field, angry at the home team. loser.
“We cannot see. The fans were screaming and we couldn’t breathe,” Habibi said.
Chaos broke out in the football-crazed Southeast Asian nation, leaving 125 dead and more than 400 injured, sending a peaceful town on the main island of Java into shock and mourning. The victims were mainly fans of the local Arema FC football team in Malang.
Comments from spectators, police and experts who spoke to Reuters as well as videos showed the disaster was caused by a combination of factors – a crowd exceeding the stadium’s capacity, angry fans, the firing of tear gas by the police and, tragically, several locked exits.
The use of tear gas, a crowd control measure banned by world football’s governing body FIFA, has been closely monitored and police said the decision to do so was one of the issues being dealt with. investigate.
Yusuf Kurniawan, a respected commentator on football in Indonesia, said that while tear gas was fired to disperse fans who had entered the field, it flew into the stands.
“People panic and they choke trying to find the exit,” he said.
Some spectators said at least three exits at Kanjuruhan Stadium were locked on Saturday night, leading to crushes and stampedes. Some said most of those killed were near Gate 13 of the stadium, one of which was locked.
Albertus Wahyurudhanto, a commissioner of the national police commission watchdog, said on Tuesday that some exits were locked but it was unclear who locked them and why.
A director from PT Liga Indonesia, the domestic soccer league, said he was unable to answer questions because of the ongoing investigation. A spokesperson from Arema FC was not immediately available for comment.
A spokesman for the national and East Java police declined to answer questions about security measures but on Monday 10 officers were suspended pending an investigation.
“We heard the doors were closed, or some doors and many people couldn’t get out, so I decided to wait. I couldn’t breathe and my eyes hurt,” said Haura, a 20-year-old university student who fainted in the stands. Like many Indonesians, Haura only uses names.
Medics said those arrested in the crush most died of asphyxiation and head injuries, while officials confirmed that 33 minors were among those killed.
“We were wrong,” said Habibi, among the angry Arema fans who flooded the field and threw rocks, then set the police car down outside the stadium, “But what the police did was also wrong. .”
Some viewers suggested that police fired tear gas directly into the stands, while footage showed officers kicking and beating fans with batons.
With the country searching for answers, attention is turning to the police, but experts say the real picture is more complicated.
To try to cope with the risk, police banned fans of rival Persebaya Surabaya from attending and ordered the ‘high-risk’ match to be held during the day, said Akmal Marhali, the private’s coordinator. , when security control is easier. football monitoring organization, Save our Soccer (SOS).
Surabaya is about 100 kilometers (60 mi) north of Malang, and matches between the two East Java sides are often tense.
Akmal said the match took place at night with the organizers printing 42,000 tickets for a stadium designed to hold only 38,000. However, no tickets were sold to Persebaya fans, police said.
“We cannot just blame the police. These are collective mistakes,” Akmal said.
In the match, Arema led Persebaya two goals in the first half but equalized before the break. The home team conceded early in the second half, and a 3-2 defeat to a bitter opponent at home was the first match in 23 years.
Home team fans flooded the field as the game ended, while players rushed into the changing rooms, according to the video.
Awang, a 52-year-old Arema fan, said he left before the final whistle blew. He said he took shelter in a nearby store when the chaos unfolded and returned to the stadium afterwards.
“What I saw was horrifying. There were dead bodies in the prayer room, 17 bodies as I remember,” he said, “Many of my supporters cried hysterically. “
Hooliganism and violence in football are not new in Indonesia – data from SOS shows 86 people have died from football-related violence in Indonesia since 1995 – but the gravity of the tragedy This shocked the whole country.
Commentator Kurniawan said in the past violence at football matches had failed to bring about change, but this time it must be different.
“Our mentality needs to change because managing football is like managing a country. This is a mirror, a portrait of our nation,” he said.
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