General News Sun, 13 May 2001

President says 'never again' as country mourns

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) -- At a mass memorial service for 126 people killed in Africa's worst soccer stampede, Ghana's President John Kufuor said Sunday the country must ``never again allow such a disaster to happen.''
Thousands of people, including senior government officials, diplomats, religious leaders and families of the deceased, turned out at a courtyard at State House. As church choirs sang hymns, hundreds of people in the traditional mourning colors of red and black sobbed quietly.
``This is a time for the healing process to begin. We owe it to the memory of those departed,'' Kufuor said after laying a wreath. ``We must resolve never again to allow such a disaster to happen.''
Ekua Agyewaa, a trader who lost her uncle, cried softly and said, ``I'm devastated, I'm devastated.''
Just across the road was the Accra Sports Stadium, where the tragedy unfolded Wednesday at the end of a game between two of this West African nation's most popular teams.
The stampede began after police lobbed tear gas at unruly fans who had been throwing bottles and chairs onto the field. The gas sent panicked spectators running for the main gates -- only to find the gates locked. Most of the victims suffocated or were trampled in the ensuing crush.
The accident has drawn sharp criticism of police, who are blamed for sparking the stampede. On Friday, after a state funeral for 30 Muslim victims, hundreds of youths attacked a police station in the capital and staged violent protests.
``It's important that we don't reject a vital institution of state simply because it has failed on a number of occasions. Instead we should try and transform and reinvigorate the police to meet our needs,'' Kufuor said.
Kufuor also appealed to angered citizens not to politicize the tragedy.
``Some of the anger has found expression in violent incidents leading to the spread of fear and insecurity. Let me appeal to all of you to exercise maximum restraint,'' Kufuor said.
Although riot police and several dozen soldiers were deployed at the memorial service, the seaside capital was quiet. Nima, the low-income neighborhood where Friday's violence took place, was also calm.
Sunday marked the end of three days of national mourning. Flags have flown at half-staff throughout the country.
Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Government Business John Mensah announced the government had started a trust fund for bereaved families and called on those who could to contribute.
Kufuor has promised to give each of the victims' families $360 to help with funeral expenses. He said the government had donated $300 million worth of drugs toward medical care for the injured.
The government and the police have set up separate investigations to look into the stampede. The government's commission is expected to release its findings in a month.
This was the fourth soccer disaster in Africa in a month. On April 11, 43 people were killed at a stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa. Another stampede in Lubumbashi, Congo, on April 29 left eight dead, and fighting at a game in Ivory Coast on May 6 killed one person and injured 39.


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