Indonesian soccer stampede kills at least 129, police say

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MEDAN, Indonesia – At least 129 people were killed and about 180 others injured in a stampede after a soccer match Saturday night in Indonesia, local police said.

At least two police officers were among those killed, East Java police chief Nico Afinta told reporters. They developed breathing problems and suffocated as they tried to leave the stadium, he said.

34 people died on the spot, Afinta said, and the rest died in hospitals.

“Mass commotion” followed the game, the soccer league, Liga 1, said in a statement, calling the episode a “heartbreaking incident.”

The stampede happened after home team Arema FC lost to Persebaya Surabaya at the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, after which dozens of fans stormed the pitch, according to videos on social media and local media reports.

Videos showed fans storming the center of the field before dispersing, beaten back by uniformed officers carrying batons and riot shields, as loud bangs and clouds of smoke erupted in the arena. People leapt over barriers and jumped onto railings as they fled as officers punched and kicked them on the field as spectators watched from the still-crowded stands.

Although the stampede was among the deadliest events at a football match in the country’s history, violence at matches is common in Indonesia; The stadiums often only allow home team fans to attend in an attempt to prevent matches.

“Sampai mati” or “until death” is a common refrain among many dedicated Indonesian soccer fans. Violence associated with soccer spectators is so intense in Indonesia that teams often travel to matches in armored vehicles to avoid being pelted with stones and other projectiles.

Indonesia’s sports minister, Zainudin Amali, said he was on his way to Malang after the incident. He called for a full investigation and said he hoped this “disaster” would be the last of its kind.

The office of the Indonesian president and the chairman of the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI), Yunus Nusi, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Games were suspended for a week, the league said. “Hopefully this will be a valuable lesson for all of us,” said the head of the league, Akhmad Hadian Lukita.

Pietsch reported from Denver.

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