MALANG, INDONESIA (AP) – An Indonesian police chief and nine elite officers were removed from their posts on Monday and 18 others were being investigated for responsibility in the firing of tear gas inside a football 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 organiser had banned supporters of the visiting team, Persebaya Surabaya, because of Indonesia’s history of violent football rivalries.
The disaster on Saturday night was among the deadliest ever at a sporting event.
Arema players and officials laid wreaths on 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 loved ones or the ones still being treated in the hospital,” head coach Javier Roca said.
On Monday night, about a thousand football fans dressed in black shirts held a candlelight vigil at a football 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 football 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.