Indonesia police chief, others removed over soccer disaster

  • Players and officials of the soccer club Arema FC pray outside the Kanjuruhan Stadium where many fans lost their lives in a stampede Saturday night in Malang, Indonesia, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. Panic at an Indonesian soccer match Saturday left over 100 people dead, most of whom were trampled to death after police fired tear gas to stop the clashes. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

MALANG, Indonesia — An Indonesian police chief and nine elite officers were removed from their posts Monday and 18 others were being investigated for responsibility in the firing of tear gas inside a soccer stadium that set off a stampede, killing at least 125 people, officials said.

Distraught family members were struggling to comprehend the loss of their loved ones, including 17 children, at the match in East Java’s Malang city that was attended only by hometown Arema FC fans. The organizer had banned supporters of the visiting team, Persebaya Surabaya, because of Indonesia’s history of violent soccer rivalries.

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The disaster Saturday night was among the deadliest ever at a sporting event.

Arema players and officials laid wreaths Monday in front of the stadium.

“We came here as a team asking forgiveness from the families impacted by this tragedy, those who lost their loves ones or the ones still being treated in the hospital,” head coach Javier Roca said.

On Monday night, about a thousand soccer fans dressed in black shirts held a candlelight vigil at a soccer stadium in Jakarta’s satellite city of Bekasi to pray for the victims of the disaster.

Witnesses said some of the 42,000 Arema fans ran onto the pitch in anger on Saturday after the team was defeated 3-2, its first loss at home against Persebaya in 23 years. Some threw bottles and other objects at players and soccer officials. At least five police vehicles were toppled and set ablaze outside the stadium.

But most of the deaths occurred when riot police, trying to stop the violence, fired tear gas, including in the stands, triggering a disastrous stampede of fans making a panicked, chaotic run for the exits. Most of the 125 people who died were trampled or suffocated. The victims included two police officers.

At least 17 children were among the dead and seven were being treated in hospitals, the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection said. Police said 323 people were injured in the crush, with some still in critical condition.

National Police spokesperson Dedy Prasetyo said Malang police chief Ferli Hidayat had been removed along with nine members of an elite police mobile brigade and face possible dismissal in a police ethics trial.

He said 18 officers responsible for firing the tear gas, ranging from middle- to high-ranking, were being investigated. Police are questioning witnesses and analyzing video from 32 security cameras inside and outside the stadium and nine cellphones owned by the victims as part of an investigation that will also identify suspected vandals, he said.

President Joko Widodo ordered the premier soccer league suspended until safety is reevaluated and security tightened. Indonesia’s soccer association also banned Arema from hosting soccer matches for the rest of the season.

Arema FC President Gilang Widya Pramana expressed his sadness and deepest apologies to the victims and the Indonesian people, and said he is ready to take full responsibility for the tragedy at his team’s stadium. He said the management, coach and players were in shock and speechless. He said Arema FC is ready to accept any sanctions from Indonesia’s Soccer Association and the government, and “hopefully, it will be a very valuable lesson.”

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