, ABIDJAN, Jan 1 – At least 60 people died and dozens more were injured in Abidjan as crowds that had gathered for celebratory New Year’s fireworks stampeded overnight, Ivory Coast rescue workers said on Tuesday.
An AFP journalist saw many injured children, while images broadcast by RTI television showed bodies stretched lifeless on the ground outside the city’s main stadium.
Piles of abandoned shoes and clothing could also be seen at the stadium, where soldiers and police were deployed, along with UN peacekeepers.
“This is a real tragedy on this New Year’s Day,” President Alassane Ouattara said at the scene.
“We are all in shock,” he added, saying a period of national mourning would be held.
The government said 60 people had died, with an average age of 18. Earlier, the head of military rescue workers, Lieutenant Colonel Issa Sako, told journalists that 61 had died.
“Forty-nine wounded were evacuated” by rescue workers, Sako said, adding that other injured victims had gone to hospital on their own. Another rescue official said at least 200 people had been wounded in all.
Sako said the flow of people at the stadium had caused a “very large crush” and that “in the crush, people were walked over and suffocated by the crowd”.
Officials said around 50,000 people had gathered for the fireworks.
Witnesses said the stampede had broken out after the fireworks ended, though the cause remains unclear. It erupted near the stadium’s main entrance, where security had set up tree trunks as crowd control barriers.
According to a police source, the crush occurred when two streams of spectators going in opposite directions crossed paths.
A security source added that rescue services “took some time to arrive”.
Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko said the “exact circumstances” of the tragedy are “under investigation by the security services”.
Visibly shaken children were among the roughly 40 wounded taken to a hospital in the wealthy neighbourhood of Cocody, in the north of the economic capital.
A mother named Zeinab who had taken two of her children to the stadium found one of them in the hospital, a small boy who lay on a bed in a groggy state.