Indonesia football disaster: 32 children among dead in East Java tragedy

Chief security minister announces independent investigation into crush that killed at least 125 people

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The number of children killed in the football tragedy in Indonesia at the weekend has climbed to 32 — up from an earlier figure of 17, a government official said on Monday.

At least 125 people were killed and scores injured on Saturday night in the eastern city of Malang, in East Java province. Thousands of fans had invaded the pitch and police fired tear gas that caused a panic, authorities said.

Children who died were aged between 3 and 17, an official from the Women's Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry told Reuters.

Police fired tear gas to try to stop violence, leading to a crush of panicked fans running for exits at the match between host Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya.

Witnesses said officers beat them with sticks and shields before shooting tear gas canisters directly into the crowds. The panic resulted in scores of deaths by trampling and suffocation.

It was one of the deadliest disasters at a sporting event.

Arema FC apologised on Monday. Club president Gilang Widya Pramana said he was ready to take full responsibility for the events.

The country will establish an independent team to investigate the incident and help to find those responsible, Chief Security Minister Mahfud MD told a news conference earlier on Monday.

“My family and I didn't think it would turn out like this,” said Endah Wahyuni, whose brothers, Ahmad Cahyo, 15, and Muhammad Farel, 14, died after being caught in the crush.

“They loved soccer, but never watched Arema live at Kanjuruhan stadium. This was their first time,” she told Reuters at her brothers' funeral on Sunday, referring to the home side they followed.

Indonesian police said on Monday that they were investigating 18 officers responsible for firing tear gas that set off the crush.

National Police spokesman Dedy Prasetyo said officers from mid-ranking and high-ranking positions were being investigated, alongside “internal matters related to security management”.

He said police were still questioning witnesses and analysing footage from 32 security cameras inside and outside the stadium and nine mobile phones owned by the victims as part of the investigation to also identify suspected vandals. Two police officers were among the dead.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered compensation for the families of the 125 victims, a minister said on Monday.

"As a sign of condolences, the president will donate 50 million rupiah ($3,200) for each victim who died," Mr Mahfud told a press conference. He said the money would be handed over within two days.

Indonesian daily Koran Tempo ran a black front page on Monday, with the headline “Our Football Tragedy” printed in red along with a list of the dead.

Home side Arema FC had lost the match 3-2 to Persebaya Surabaya, although authorities had said tickets were not issued to Persebaya fans due to security concerns.

The incident was a “dark day for all involved”, said Fifa, the governing body for world football, which has asked Indonesian football authorities for a report on the incident.

'All those responsible should be held accountable'

Its safety regulations say firearms or “crowd control gas” should not be used at matches.

Police and sport officials have been sent to Malang to investigate the incident.

“All those responsible should be held accountable for this disaster, regardless of their status or position,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said on Monday.

“It's not enough for the national police and the Football Association of Indonesia to conduct their own investigation because they may be tempted to downplay or undermine full accountability for officials involved.”

Indonesia's hopes of hosting world sports events in future will depend on the credibility of its investigation into the weekend's football stadium disaster and safety reforms, analysts have warned.

The country had submitted a bid to replace China as hosts for next year's Asian Cup football, with a decision due in two weeks.

"It certainly tarnishes the reputation of the country and tarnishes the reputation of football there. They can't escape that," Los Angeles-based crowd management expert Paul Wertheimer told AFP.

Updated: October 03, 2022, 11:54 AM
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