More than 100 people died Saturday night after a professional soccer match in Malang, Indonesia, when rioting fans prompted the police to fire tear gas into tightly packed crowds, according to local officials.
After the Arema football club lost 3-2 to Persebaya Surabaya, dozens of fans rushed the field at Kanjuruhan Stadium, Arema’s home.
The unrest prompted the police to fire tear gas, which caused panic, Inspector General Nico Afinta, the East Java Police chief, said at a news conference. He said 127 people died, two of them members of the National Police.
“Tear gas was used because there was anarchy,” said Chief Afinta. “They were about to attack the officers and had damaged the cars.”
Hundreds of people ran to one exit gate in an effort to avoid the tear gas. Some suffocated and others were trampled, killing 34 almost instantly. “There was a pile-up,” Chief Afinta said. “The buildup process resulted in shortness of breath and lack of oxygen.”
The medical team carried out rescue efforts in the stadium and then evacuated others to several hospitals, Chief Afinta said at the news conference.
On Twitter, a user uploaded a video that showed fans scaling a fence as they tried to flee the clouds of tear gas.
In the video, people were heard cursing the police. The Twitter user, @akmalmarhali, tagged President Joko Widodo and Vice-President Ma’ruf Amin, saying that the firing of the tear gas had caused the deaths.
Another Twitter user, @FaktaSepakbola, uploaded a video that showed soldiers with shields and batons kicking and hitting fans who had rushed onto the field. The authorities then fired tear gas onto the field.
The league immediately suspended play for at least a week.
“We are concerned and deeply regret this incident,” said Akhmad Hadian Lukita, president director of PT Liga Indonesia Baru, known as LIB. “We share our condolences and hopefully this will be a valuable lesson for all of us.”
Soccer violence has long been a problem for Indonesia. Violent, often deadly rivalries between major teams are common. Some teams even have fan clubs with so-called commanders, who lead armies of supporters to matches across Indonesia. Flares are often thrown on the field, and riot police are a regular presence at many matches. Since the 1990s, dozens of fans have been killed in soccer-related violence.
Muktita Suhartono and Dera Menra Sijabat contributed reporting from Jakarta, and Damien Cave from Sydney, Australia.