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General News of Friday, 11 May 2001

Source: Reuters -By Kwaku Sakyi-Addo

Ghana Moves to Douse Anger After Stadium Carnage

Ghana's President John Kufuor has moved to douse smoldering anger against police after a soccer stampede that left at least 126 dead in Africa's worst football tragedy.
Police fired shots in the air on Thursday to drive off a mob that attacked a police station in Accra, apparently bent on revenge over Wednesday's stampede which survivors blamed on security forces for firing teargas in the packed stadium.
``This is not the time to apportion blame or seek scapegoats. Let us not rush to judgement,'' Kufuor said in a national broadcast on Thursday night.
The six officers in command at the stadium on Wednesday were to be investigated over their role in the deadly stampede after the match between Ghana's biggest soccer teams degenerated into the third worst soccer disaster of modern times.
The stampede was Africa's third deadly stadium disaster in a month and cast a shadow over the soccer-mad continent's expectation that it would host the World Cup finals in 2010.
The government announced three days of national mourning from Friday during which flags will fly at half mast, and a memorial service for all victims on Sunday.
The official toll acknowledged 126 dead in the stampede triggered by teargas police fired when fans began throwing missiles after local heroes Hearts of Oak won a 2-1 league victory over arch-rivals Asante Kotoko, from the central town of Kumasi.
Local radios said up to 130 people died, including several Muslims who were buried immediately in accordance with Islamic rites rather than being taken to morgues in Accra hospitals.
``My father... My father is inside there,'' sobbed Mohammed Abdullah Ali as he came out of a mortuary besieged by thousands of desperate relatives searching for their loved ones on Thursday.
Many of those lying on the blood-soaked floor of the morgue were crushed to death. Others died of suffocation in the scramble to escape from the teargas.
``There were lots of people on top of me. One guy started foaming at the mouth and another had blood coming out of his mouth,'' said Ebenezer Nortey, an electrical technician.
``It was all the fault of the police.''
Security was particularly tight before the match between two teams whose rivalry goes back decades and is steeped in political and ethnic animosities.
Both are among the biggest names in African soccer, although Hearts have in recent years taken the mantle Kotoko won in the 1950s and 1960s as one of the continent's dominant teams.
Hearts draws its support from the coastal city of Accra.
Kotoko's following is from the old Ashanti kingdom, also home to Kufuor -- a former Kotoko chairman -- who took office in January after an election seen as a beacon of hope for democracy on a continent notorious for dictatorship.
``I appeal to all of you to show restraint and calm. The eyes of the world are upon us. Let us therefore show the world we are dignified and a peace-loving people,'' Kufuor said, announcing the formation of a five-member commission of inquiry to report back in one month.
The stampede reinforced doubts over Africa's expectation that it will host the 2010 World Cup after South Africa was pipped at the post by Germany for the 2006 competition.
World soccer body FIFA warned that Africa's suitability for staging the World Cup depended on it improving stadium safety.
On April 11, 43 soccer fans were crushed to death when fans tried to force their way into Johannesburg's huge Ellis Park stadium midway through a top South African league match.
At least seven people were killed and 51 seriously injured in an April 30 stampede in the Democratic Republic of Congo after police moved to break up rioting at a match in Lubumbashi.