, ABIDJAN, Mar 30 – Fans stampeded in an Abidjan stadium during a World Cup match featuring top European-based stars on Sunday killing at least 19 people and injuring 132, a minister said.
Hundreds of fans with tickets tried to force their way into the Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in Ivory Coast’s biggest city as the match against Malawi started, a medical source told AFP.
Police were said to have fired tear gas to control crowds who had wanted to see top European-based stars taking part and the stampede was followed by a wall collapse, according to the source.
Many casualties were treated at the stadium as the match went ahead and the worst injured were taken to the Treichville hospital in Abidjan and a military hospital.
Sports and Youth Minister Dagobert Banzio said on national television that 19 people were killed and 132 injured in the disaster.
Interior Minister Desire Tagro said the panic broke out just as the match, which was attended by President Laurent Gbagbo, was about to start at 1700 GMT.
"Large numbers of supporters came to the stadium," he said.
"There was a stampede because the match was about to start, everyone absolutely wanted to get in," said the minister.
Tagro called on the public to "remain calm". He said the government "condemned" the incident and had started an inquiry into what caused the deadly crush. He said the dozens of injured were being helped.
The recently renovated stadium has an official capacity of 35,000 but was packed with fans eager to see Ivory Coast’s European-based stars such as Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou of Chelsea and Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue of Arsenal play in the World Cup qualifying match.
Drogba scored twice and Kalou once in the game which the hosts won 5-0 as the drama unfolded.
Most of the Ivory Coast national team play for clubs in England, France and other top European championships.
The interior and sports ministers held an emergency meeting with leaders of the Ivory Coast Football Federation (FIF) late on Sunday following the disaster, FIF president Albert Kakou Anzouan told AFP.
Hundreds of people have been killed in stadium riots and stampedes in Africa over the last decade.