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Relatives ID Stampede Victims At Least 125 Dead After Incident At Ghanian Stadium

By Ann M. Simmons and Vincent Azumah

Relatives of more than 100 people who were crushed to death during a soccer match jammed hospitals here Thursday to identify their loved ones. Others frantically searched for friends and family members who failed to return from the game.

Trampled bodies in ripped and blood-soaked clothes were strewn throughout the hallways of Hospital No. 37, where many of the victims had been taken. High-pitched wails and moans pierced the putrid air.

Hospital authorities put the death toll at 125; the figure could be much higher, according to some estimates, because relatives claimed many of the dead at the stadium. About 200 people with broken limbs and head and spine injuries were admitted to the hospital, officials said.

Government spokesman Kwabena Agyapong said an investigation would be launched “into why and how such an unacceptable, large number of people should lose their lives one evening.”

Wednesday’s incident, the fourth soccer stadium tragedy to hit an African country in a month, has sparked a debate over poor security at large-scale sporting events, inept policing and the excessive use of tear gas. It has also renewed doubt about Africa’s ability to host the 2010 World Cup -- a sporting honor it was promised in March.

“It is obviously a massive blow,” said Mark Gleeson, a soccer commentator based in Cape Town, South Africa. “It renews questions about the level of competence” of African soccer management.

During Wednesday’s game, Accra Hearts of Oak, the hometown team, was leading 2-1 against its archrival, Asante Kotoko. With five minutes left to play, Kotoko supporters began to get rowdy.

“It all started when Hearts scored the winning goal of the match, which some fans of Kotoko thought was an off-side goal,” Kotoko supporter Alex Owusu, 27, said from his hospital bed, where he was being treated for broken limbs. “They started tearing off the stadium seats and hurling them down.”

Owusu, a merchant and frequent visitor to the stadium, said police fired tear gas into the crowd, triggering a stampede as fans rushed for the exits. Many were trapped at the main gate, which was locked.

Owusu jumped from the stands but failed to escape the mayhem.

“I landed badly and got trampled by the crowd and lost consciousness,” said Owusu, his eyes welling with tears. “I woke up in bed at the hospital.”

Soccer officials laid much of the blame on the Ghanaian police.