January 03, 2013
By INZA BAKAYOKO
Survivors of a stampede in Ivory Coast that killed 61 people, most of them children and teenagers, after a New Year’s Eve fireworks display said Wednesday that makeshift barricades stopped them from moving along a main boulevard, causing the crush of people.
Ivory Coast police said unknown people put tree trunks across the Boulevard de la Republique where the trampling took place.
“For security, because there were so many important people at the event, we closed certain main streets,” said a police officer who was overheard briefing Ivory Coast President Alassane Outtara on the incident. The police officer said the tree trunks were put out unofficially by people who are not known.
“After the fireworks we reopened the other streets, but we had not yet removed the tree trunks from the Boulevard de la Republique, in front of the Hotel Tiana near the National Assembly (parliament) building,” she said. “That is where the stampede happened when people flooded in from the other streets.”
Ouattara ordered three days of national mourning and launched an investigation into the causes of the tragedy.
Two survivors, in interviews with The Associated Press, indicated why so many died in what would normally be an open area, the Boulevard de la Republique. An estimated 50,000 people had gathered near the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium and elsewhere in Abidjan’s Plateau district to watch the fireworks. As they streamed away from the show some encountered the blockades.
“Near the Justice Palace we were stopped by some people who put blockades of wood in the street,” 33-year-old Zoure Sanate said from her bed in Cocody Hospital. “They told us we must stay in the Plateau area until morning. None of us accepted to stay in Plateau until the morning for a celebration that ended at around 1 a.m.
“Then came the stampede of people behind us,” she said. “My four children and I were knocked to the ground. I was hearing my kids calling me, but I was powerless and fighting against death. Two of my kids are in hospital with me, but two others are missing. They cannot be found.”
Another hospital patient, Brahima Compaore, 39, said he also was caught in the pile of people stopped by the roadblock.
“I found myself on the ground and people were walking on me,” said Compaore. “I was only saved by people who pulled me onto the sidewalk.”
Local newspapers are speculating that thieves put up the roadblocks so that pickpockets could steal money and mobile phones from the packed-in people.
Ouattara pledged to get answers. Some observers wondered why police did not prevent the tragedy.
“The investigation must take into account all the testimonies of victims,” he said Wednesday. “We will have a crisis center to share and receive information.”
Ouattara also postponed the traditional New Year’s receptions at his residence, which had been scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
The leader of a human rights organization said that deadly incidents were predictable because the police and civil authorities had not taken adequate protective measures.
“The situation is deplorable,” said Thierry Legre, president of the Ivorian League of Human Rights. “It is our first tragedy of 2013 but in 2012 we could already see possibility of such a tragedy because there are not adequate authorities patrolling our roads and waters.”
Legre said the New Year’s stampede “exposes our weak and dysfunctional civil protection system. This must be corrected immediately. The government cannot invite people to this kind of public gathering without taking adequate precautions to protect their safety and their lives.”
He called on the government “to implement measures to avoid such tragedies in the future by reinforcing the civil protection system.”
The government organized the fireworks to celebrate Ivory Coast’s peace, after several months of political violence in early 2011 following disputed elections.
Just one night before the New Year's incident, there had been a big concert at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium where American rap star Chris Brown performed. That Sunday night event was for the Kora Awards for African musicians. No serious incidents were reported from that event.
In 2009, 22 people died and over 130 were injured in a stampede at a World Cup qualifying match at the Houphouet Boigny Stadium, prompting FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, to impose a fine of tens of thousands of dollars on Ivory Coast’s soccer federation. The stadium, which officially holds 35,000, was overcrowded at the time of the disaster.
Another African stadium tragedy occurred on New Year’s Eve in Angola where 13 people, including four children, died in a stampede during a religious gathering at a sports stadium in Luanda, the capital.
Angop, the Angolan news agency, cited officials as saying Tuesday that 120 people were also injured. The incident happened on New Year’s Eve when tens of thousands of people gathered at the stadium and panic ensued. Faustino Sebastiao, spokesman for the national firefighters department, says those who died were crushed and asphyxiated.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “deep sorrow” at the heavy human toll and put “a medical team and all available logistical means at the disposal of the government,” to help deal with the situation, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
An official says two Nigerian journalists have been freed after being detained without charges for more than a week by the nation’s secret police following writing stories about a radical Islamist sect and alleged military abuses.
Mohammed Garba, president of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, said Tuesday that Musa Mohammed Awwal and Aliyu Saleh, journalists with the weekly Hausa language newspaper, Al-Mizan, were freed around noon. Garba said the two men had not been abused or mistreated while in custody. He said the two men may have to return for questioning again by Nigeria’s secretive State Security Service.
The two journalists were arrested Dec. 24 at their homes in Kaduna. Their newspaper has published a series of stories about alleged military abuses and the sect known as Boko Haram.
South Africa’s presidency says former leader Nelson Mandela is progressing with his recuperation from illness and doctors are closely monitoring his condition.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Wednesday that “everything is moving OK” as 94-year-old Mandela rests at his home in Johannesburg after a hospital stay last month.
The former president received treatment for a lung infection and also had gallstones removed.
Maharaj says Mandela is “taking it easy” and is under “close medical attention.”
Mandela spent 27 years in prison under apartheid and became South Africa’s first black president in democratic elections in 1994.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has charged a 24-year-old man with attempted murder for allegedly setting a homeless woman on fire as she slept on a suburban bus bench.
Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney says Dennis Petillo is scheduled to be arraigned January 7. Prosecutors will ask that his bail be set at $1.03 million.
In addition to attempted murder, he is charged with aggravated mayhem.
Carney alleges that Petillo threw a flammable liquid on the 67-year-old woman, who had slept on the bench for years, then set her on fire last Thursday.
The victim remains hospitalized in critical but stable condition.
If convicted, Petillo faces a maximum of life in state prison if convicted. It’s not known if he has retained an attorney.
By KRISTA LARSON Associated Press
Kpademona Marcel and other residents of the capital of Central African Republic have watched in fear as rebels from the country’s north seized control of more than half the country in less than a month. On Tuesday, all he could do was pray that a solution to the crisis could be found without the violence reaching Bangui.
“We are afraid for our nation and for our fellow citizens in the countryside,” Marcel said, standing on the steps of the Notre Dame cathedral before a New Year’s Day Mass. “The rebels are imposing themselves on the population and stealing things. We are here praying for peace.”
As a new year began, the fate of the capital with 700,000 people, remained unclear. Government forces backed by a regional multinational force held a line in Damara, just 75 kilometers (45 miles) from Bangui. The rebels hold the city of Sibut, about 185 kilometers (115 miles) from Bangui.
While President Francois Bozize, after nearly a decade in power, has proposed a coalition government to include the rebels, a spokesman for the alliance of rebel groups advancing through the country said Monday they did not trust his offer. Former colonial power France already has said it will not protect Bozize’s regime and has about 600 troops in the country just to protect its own interests.
Trucks full of soldiers bounced on the rutted roads of Bangui that are dotted with shacks where people can charge their mobile phones. Police officers stopped vehicles at intersections in another sign of stepped up security in this capital at the heart of Africa where even the banana and palm tree leaves are coated in heavy red dust from the earth.
Troops from neighboring nations arrived in the country, with a contingent from Gabon expected Tuesday. Their arrival comes a day after about 120 soldiers flew in from Republic of Congo with a mission to help stabilize the area between rebels and the government forces.
The political instability already has prompted the United States government to evacuate its ambassador and about 40 other people. There have been no mass civilian evacuations from the capital, though many residents have temporarily relocated to the southern side of Bangui, considered further from the path of a potential rebel invasion arriving from the north.
One woman in Bangui said she knew many people who already had fled the city but said she had too many family members to leave herself.
“I have five children and two grandchildren. I prefer to stay here and die with my children if it comes to that,” she said, giving her name only as Lucienne.
In the Bimbo neighborhood, traders went about their business, selling everything from leafy greens to meat at roadside stands.
“We don’t support what the rebels are doing,” said banana farmer Narcisse Ngo, as a young boy played nearby with a monkey corpse for sale along with other meat. “They should be at the table negotiating without weapons. We are all Central Africans.”
The landlocked nation of 4.4 million people is rich in diamonds, gold and uranium and yet remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Central African Republic has suffered many army revolts, coups and rebellions since gaining independence from France in 1960.
The rebels behind the current instability signed a 2007 peace accord allowing them to join the regular army, but insurgent leaders say the deal wasn’t fully implemented and has made a variety of demands including payments to former combatants.
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