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General News of Thursday, 10 May 2001

Source: Associated Press

Over 120 Dead in Soccer Stampede -AP

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) - A stampede at a packed soccer match between top Ghana teams killed at over 120 people Wednesday night, a top government official said. Panic set in when police fired tear gas to subdue unruly fans, witnesses said.

Hometown team Accra Hearts of Oak was leading 2-1 against Asante Kotoko with five minutes left when Asante supporters began throwing bottles and chairs onto the field, witnesses said.

Police responded by firing tear gas, creating panic in the stands as spectators rushed to escape the gas, they said.

Ambulances raced through the streets of this seaside capital more than an hour after the stampede at Accra Stadium, the city's main playing field. Radio stations were broadcasting appeals for all doctors to report to work to help treat the injured.

``It is a great national tragedy,'' said Minister of Presidential Affairs Jake Obetsebi-Amptey, who visited the hospital. ``Many people have died and many more are wounded and are bleeding.''

He said at least 100 people were killed. Hospital officials also gave that figure, but some local media reported that more than 120 fans were killed in the melee.

The stampede was the fourth soccer tragedy to hit an African country in a month.

It was also the latest challenge facing the fledgling government President John Kufuor.

The hallways of Ghana's military hospital No. 37, where many of the casualties had were taken, were crowded with bleeding, injured people, as relatives frantically searched for loved ones.

Obetsebi-Amptey urged relatives to return home, saying they were crowding the hospital and creating problems.

``What is important now is to remain calm ... It is a night for us to mourn and not a night to worsen an already bad situation with anger and impatience.''

At the Ridge Hospital, bodies in dusty, ripped clothing were covered in sheets and laid out on the floor early Thursday. Many wore jeans and bare feet. A wounded woman was helped into the hospital, with one man supporting her under the arms and another carrying her intravenous tubes.

This is the latest in a string of recent soccer disasters.

Officials in northeastern Iran said overcrowding was the main reason the roof of a stadium collapsed on Sunday, killing two people and triggering riots with police. At least 20,000 people were packed into Mottaqi stadium in the town of Sari - twice its capacity.

Since early April, 51 people were killed in other soccer stadium clashes in Africa. Forty-three of them died April 11 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Another stampede April 29 killed seven people in Lubumbashi, Congo. And on May 6, fighting broke out among fans at a soccer match in Ivory Coast, killing one person and injuring 39.

Kufuor, who took office in January pledging to rebuild this West African nation's ailing economy, is dealing with a scandal that broke last week, further taxing the poor country's resources.
Ghana's Justice Minister Addo-Dankwa Akuffo-Addo announced that five former top officials were charged in connection with a failed project to grow rice for Ghana's hungry that left the government holding $20 million in debts.