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Police blamed for Ghana tragedy

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ACCRA, Ghana -- Police in Ghana are being blamed for Africa's worst ever soccer disaster in which 126 fans died.

Survivors say they begged the police not to fire tear gas into the crowd but their pleas went unheeded.

"It was all the fault of the police," said Ebenezer Nortey, an electrical technician recovering in hospital one day after the tragedy.

"We started begging the police not to fire any tear gas again. But they went ahead," Nortey said.

Ghana's government announced a three-day mourning period following the disaster in capital Accra at a packed soccer game between two of the nation's top teams.

CNN's Charlayne Hunter-Gault said: "Police rushed in, firing tear gas to subdue the crowd.

  AUDIO

Journalist Cameron Duodu: This is disgraceful for Ghana

590K/54 sec.
AIFF or WAV sound

Journalist Kwaku Sakyi-Ado: National mourning declared

940K/87 sec.
AIFF or WAV sound

Teargas

Football Commentator Mark Gleeson: Use of tear gas caused deaths

910K/84 sec.
AIFF or WAV sound

Ghana

Francisca Ashietey-Odunton, Ghana Television News: Criticism of police

510K/47 sec.
AIFF or WAV sound
 
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"But the stinging gas caused panic as fans charged towards the gates, crushing and suffocating many along the way."

Police launched an internal probe into the incident on Thursday, in addition to a government investigation announced on Wednesday night.

"I can assure you that no officer will be shielded if found guilty of unprofessionalism," police Inspector General Ernest Owusu Poku said.

President John Kufuor cancelled his engagements and summoned the Cabinet for an emergency session at which the three-day mourning period was agreed.

The government was also setting up a committee of religious leaders to console the bereaved families and a funeral committee to liaise with them about the burials.

President Kufour visited the military hospital and was reported to be "totally devastated."

Relatives who gathered outside the morgue to identify loved ones shouted anti-police slogans.

Hometown team Accra Hearts of Oak was leading 2-1 against Asante Kotoko of Kumasi with five minutes left in the match when Asante supporters began throwing bottles and chairs onto the field at the 45,000-capacity Accra Stadium, witnesses said.

Police responded by firing tear gas, creating panic in the stands as spectators rushed to escape, but the main gate was locked, witnesses said.

Hearts of Oak captain Jacob Nettey apologised to the West African nation and expressed condolences to the victims' families.

"I am shocked and terrified at the heavy casualty toll from what simply started as unruly behaviour from a handful of people," Nettey said. He blamed police, who he said overreacted to the situation.

The king of the influential Ashanti tribe, Otumfuo Osei-Tutu, visited the injured and donated 20 million cedis ($2,800) to the military hospital to care for the victims.

Osei-Tutu, patron of the Asante Kotoko club, said: "I am touched my the tragic news. Football is supposed to entertain people, but what happened last night has been horrific."

Ghana's football federation has indefinitely postponed all premier league matches.

This was the fourth soccer disaster in Africa during the past month. Forty-three people were killed April 11 at a stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Another stampede April 29 killed eight people in Lubumbashi, Congo. And on May 6, fighting broke out among fans at a soccer match in Ivory Coast, killing one person and injuring 39.

Africa hopes to host the 2010 World Cup -- the world's biggest sporting event after the Olympic Games -- despite widespread concerns about stadium safety.

South Africa lost out by one vote to host the 2006 World Cup, which was awarded to Germany by soccer's Swiss-based world governing body, FIFA.

FIFA Spokesman Andreas Herren said the disaster should not rule the continent out as a candidate to host the 2010 World Cup.

"The fact that there has been a rise in such disasters in Africa is of course a cause for concern," he said, speaking in Zurich, Switzerland.

"But that doesn't mean Africa won't be considered. In the meantime, we should have the decency to let Ghana bury its dead."



RELATED STORY:
125 killed in Ghana soccer crush
May 9, 2001
Memorial held for stadium victims
April 15, 2001

RELATED SITES:
Ghana Football Association
Accra Hearts of Oak
Assante Kotoko

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