General News Sun, 13 May 2001

Ghana set to mourn football victims amid tight security

Ghana was set to hold an official mourning ceremony Sunday for 126 victims of its worst sports tragedy amid heightened security following a bomb scare.

An inter-faith prayer service was to be held in the forecourt of the British-built State House -- the vice-president's office -- at 4:00 pm.

It will be attended by President John Kufuor, prominent members of his government, diplomats and relatives of the dead and the injured.

Troops at the site were on maximum alert, sweeping the area with metal detectors following a bomb scare. Sniffer dogs were also deployed and everybody entering the complex was being searched.

A top security source told AFP: "We have to reason to believe that some political elements may want to cause mischief. There will be random body searches and bomb alert facilities are in place.

"We are not taking chances ... should anything happen we will be ready."


Most people attending church in Accra on Sunday morning were wearing black in memory of the dead, who were caught up in Wednesday's deadly stampede after police fired tear gas on disappointed football fans who turned unruly.

Ghana's First Lady Theresa Kufuor Sunday struck a sombre note, stressing the enormity of the disaster.

"It's not just a mother mourning the loss of her son, who left home never to come back. It is a whole nation mourning for their children who are no longer there," she said over the state-run Ghana Radio.

Meanwhile, police have arrested a leading opposition member and former cabinet minister for inciting violence in the wake of the tragedy in Accra's poor, Muslim-dominated Nima district.

Enoch Mensah was arrested late Saturday, a police source said Sunday.

Mensah, the head of the youth wing of former military ruler Jerry Rawlings' National Democratic Congress (NDC) party, contacted the Joy FM private radio station Sunday to say he had begun a hungerstrike.


"I am a prisoner of conscience," he said, speaking over his cellular phone which had not been confiscated.

Police also arrested another leading NDC member, hotelier Bagture (eds: one name), who is based in Nima.

"His house was being used as meeting point for the riots," a police official told AFP.

The NDC meanwhile was due to hold an emergency meeting to discuss Mensah's arrest.

Party general secretary Alhaji Hudi Yahaya said: "We will do everything possible to ensure he regains his freedom."

Angry mobs Thursday and Friday attacked Nima police station and burned tyres and roadside kiosks, forcing the deployment of army soldiers in the area and throughout the seaside capital.


The mobs also shouted slogans calling for the return of Rawlings, who ruled Ghana for 19 years until he stepped down in January. "We want JJ back," they screamed.

On Sunday, the Nima police station was still being guarded by army troops backed by two tanks and a water cannon.

Media Relations Minister Elisabeth Ohene issued a stern warning to rioters on Saturday.

"The government is reinforcing security around the various police stations," she said. "The state has the machinery to deal with people who would want to disturb the peace," she added, warning people not to make political capital out of the tragedy.

A three-day period of national mourning is to end Sunday.

President Kufuor, in an emotion-filled speech Friday, vowed to punish the guilty and promised there would be "no cover-ups."

Wednesday's stampede occurred after a 2-1 victory by reigning league champions Hearts of Oak over arch-rivals Kumasi Ashanti Kotoko.

Kumasi fans began to rip up seats at the stadium and hurl them onto the pitch, causing police to fire large quantities of tear gas into the stands.

A stampede followed, trapping spectators inside the locked stadium, and killing at least 126, according to official estimates.

Source: AFP