Indonesia Soccer Stampede Kills at Least 131 as Police Use of Tear Gas Questioned

At least 131 people died after police fired tear gas to dispel rioters at a soccer match in Indonesia, triggering a stampede as fans panicked and ending in one of the world’s worst stadium disasters.

Questions are being raised over local police’s actions and organizers’ handling of the match. Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered the temporary suspension of the local football league’s matches until a thorough investigation is concluded and security procedures are improved.

“I regret this tragedy and I hope this is the last tragedy of football in the country,” Widodo said in a speech on Sunday.

There are 31 people who are seriously injured, and more than 250 others with mild injuries, according to a Ministry of Health spokeswoman. Local media reported victims, including one as young as five, suffering from suffocation and trampling. Police have identified 125 victims, state news agency Antara reported.

The match in East Java was between rivals Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya on Saturday, with the former losing on home ground. Some Arema fans stormed the pitch, East Java Regional Police Chief Nico Afinta said at a press conference on Sunday, prompting police to respond by firing tear gas including into the stands. That caused supporters to panic and rush to the exits where many were crushed.

Local organizers did not heed authorities’ suggestions to schedule the match in the afternoon and to keep the number of spectators at the stadium’s capacity of 38,000 people, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said in an Instagram post. The game was held in the evening, with 42,000 tickets sold, he said.

Amnesty International said in a statement that tear gas should only be used to disperse crowds when widespread violence has occurred and other methods have failed. FIFA, the international governing body for football, prohibits pitch-side stewards or police deployed around the field from carrying or using “crowd control gas” and firearms.

“The football world is in a state of shock following the tragic incidents that have taken place in Indonesia,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said. “This is a dark day for all involved in football and a tragedy beyond comprehension.”

The Football Association of Indonesia banned Arema from hosting games for the rest of the season.

Indonesia is set to host the under-20s World Cup next year.

–With assistance from Eduard Gismatullin and Tassia Sipahutar.

Photograph: People carry a man after a football match in Malang on Oct. 1, 2022. Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images

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