MALANG, Indonesia — Panic and a chaotic stampede after police fired tear gas at an Indonesian soccer match to disperse protesting fans left at least 174 dead, most of them trampled or suffocated, making it one of the world’s deadliest sporting events.

The use of tear gas by the police, which is banned in FIFA football stadiums, immediately attracted attention. The president of world football’s governing body called the death at the stadium “a black day for everyone involved in football and a tragedy beyond comprehension”, while President Joko Widodo ordered an investigation into security procedures.

Riots broke out after the game ended on Saturday night when hosts FC Arema from the East Java city of Malang lost 3-2 to Persebaya from Surabaya.

Frustrated by their team’s loss, thousands of Arema fans, known as “Aremania”, reacted by throwing bottles and other objects at the players and football officials. Eyewitnesses said fans flooded the Kanjuruhan Stadium pitch and demanded Arema’s management to explain why, after 23 years of unbeaten home matches against rivals Persebaya, this match ended in defeat.

The violence spread outside the stadium, where at least five police cars were overturned and set on fire. In response, riot police used tear gas, including towards the stands of the stadium, which caused panic in the crowd.

Some suffocated and others were trampled as hundreds of people ran for the exit to escape the tear gas. The chaos at the stadium left 34 people dead, including two officers, with some reports including children among the victims.

“We had already taken preventive measures before finally using tear gas when (fans) started attacking the police, acting anarchically and setting cars on fire,” East Java police chief Niko Affinto told a press conference early Sunday.

More than 300 were taken to hospitals, but many died en route and during treatment, Afinto said.

East Java Vice Governor Emil Dardak told Kompas TV that the death toll has risen to 174, while more than 100 wounded are receiving intensive treatment in eight hospitals, 11 of them in critical condition.

The Indonesian Football Association, known as PSSI, has suspended Liga 1 Premier League football indefinitely in the wake of the tragedy and banned Arema from hosting football matches until the end of the season.

Television reports showed police and rescue workers evacuating the injured and carrying the dead to ambulances.

Grieving relatives waited for information about their loved ones at the Saiful Anwar General Hospital in Malang. Others tried to identify the bodies lying in the morgue, while medical workers affixed identification tags to the bodies of the victims.

“I deeply regret this tragedy and I hope this is the last football tragedy in this country, do not let another human tragedy like this happen in the future,” Widodo said in a televised speech. “We must continue to uphold the sportsmanship, humanity and sense of brotherhood of the Indonesian nation.”

He ordered the Minister of Youth and Sports, the National Police Chief and the Chairman of the PSSI to conduct a thorough assessment of football in the country and its security procedures.

Youth and Sports Minister Zainuddin Amali also expressed regret that “this tragedy happened when we were preparing for football events, both nationally and internationally.”

Indonesia is set to host the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup from May 20 to June 11 with 24 teams participating. As the host, the country automatically qualifies for the cup.

“Unfortunately, this incident has definitely damaged our football image,” Omali said.

In a statement, FIFA president Gianni Infantino expressed his condolences on behalf of the global football community, saying “the football world is in a state of shock”. The statement does not mention the use of tear gas.

Ferli Hidayat, Malang local police chief, said there were about 42,000 spectators at Saturday’s game, all of whom were Arema supporters, because the organizers had banned Persebaya fans from entering the stadium to avoid a brawl.

The restriction was imposed after clashes between fans of two rival teams at Blitar Stadium in East Java caused 250 million rupiah ($18,000) in damage in February 2020. Brawls were reported outside the stadium during and after the East Java Governor’s Cup semi-final, which ended with Persebayo beating Orema 4-2.

Human rights groups reacted to the tragedy by accusing the police of using tear gas in the stadium.

Citing FIFA’s stadium security guidelines, which prohibit the carrying or use of “crowd control gas” by stewards or police, Amnesty International called on Indonesian authorities to conduct a swift, thorough and independent investigation into the use of tear gas at Kanjuruhan Stadium.

“Those found to have committed violations are tried in open court and do not simply receive domestic or administrative sanctions,” said Usman Hamid, Executive Director of Amnesty International Indonesia.

He said tear gas should be used to disperse crowds only in cases of mass violence and when other methods have failed. People should be warned that tear gas will be used and allowed to disperse. “No one should lose their life at a football match,” Hameed said.

Despite Indonesia’s lack of international recognition in the sport, hooliganism is common in the football-obsessed country, where fanaticism often ends in violence, as in the 2018 death of a Persija Jakarta supporter who was killed by a mob of violent fans of rival club Persib Bandung in 2018. .

Saturday’s game has already become one of the world’s worst crowd tragedies, including the 1996 World Cup qualifier between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City, where more than 80 people died and more than 100 were injured. In April 2001, more than 40 people were killed during a soccer match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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