8 December 2023

Arema supporters pray during a vigil outside the Kanjuruhan stadium after a match on Saturday night [Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]

Indonesia will establish an independent fact-finding team to investigate a stampede at a football stadium in which some 125 people, including more than a dozen children, died.

Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Mahfud MD, said the investigation into last Saturday night’s tragedy in Malang, following a league game between arch rivals Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya FC, would aim to work out what happened and identify the perpetrators.

The police chief of Malang has been removed from his position, a national police spokesman said on Monday.

The disaster began after Arema was beaten, the first time they had lost on home turf in 23 years.

As fans rushed onto the pitch, police fired tear gas, prompting panicked supporters to rush for the exit gates.

Some people suffocated in the chaos, while others were trampled to death. Two police officers were among those who died at the stadium, as well as at least 17 children in one of the worst disasters at a football stadium anywhere in the world.

Reihan Zailani, who was at the match, told Al Jazeera he saw “children die in front of his eyes,” as people struggled to get away from the tear gas.

The match was a sell-out with at least 42,000 people in the stadium, even though Persebaya Surabaya fans were banned from the game because of the intense rivalry between the two teams in the east of densely-populated Java Island.

Witnesses said the trouble started after Arema lost and fans started to go down to the pitch.

“Everyone was panicking, it was chaos,” said Nanda Rizki, who went to the match with his brother and said there were many children in the crowd.

President Joko Widodo on Sunday ordered an investigation into the tragedy, a safety review of all football matches and “security” improvements.

“I deeply regret this tragedy and I hope this football tragedy will be the last in our country,” Widodo said.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said the football world was “in a state of shock” over what had happened. The sport’s world governing body, which prohibits the use of tear gas in stadiums, has asked Indonesian authorities for a report on the tragedy.

“No one should lose their lives at a football match,” Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid said in a statement. “We call on authorities to conduct a swift, thorough and independent investigation into the use of tear gas at the stadium and ensure that those who are found to have committed violations are tried in open court and do not merely receive internal or administrative sanctions.”

Football is hugely popular in Indonesia, but IT has long been marred by violence and hooliganism. – Al-Jazeera.

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