NewsIndonesian police are in the crosshairs after the stampede...

Indonesian police are in the crosshairs after the stampede that left 131 dead

Indonesian police are in the spotlight on Tuesday as outrage grows over allegations that officers escalated the situation during stadium incidents that left 131 dead , one of the worst tragedies in soccer history.

Authorities began sanctioning the first officers believed to be responsible for unleashing the stampede after a game in Malang city that witnesses said began when officers fired tear gas into the packed stands to prevent an invasion of the pitch.

The police chief of East Java province, Nico Afinta, apologized for the security failures that caused the tragedy, whose death toll rose to 131 on Tuesday after six injured succumbed to their injuries.

On Saturday night, the stands of Kanjuhuran Stadium were packed with thousands of Arema FC fans cheering on their team against arch-rivals Persebaya Surabaya.

But home fans swarmed the pitch after the 2-3 loss, the first at home in more than two decades for Arema in this East Java island derby.

Police responded by kicking and hitting supporters with batons, according to witnesses and recordings, prompting more fans to take to the field.

Police described the incidents as “riots”, but survivors accuse officers of acting disproportionately.

“If there were riots, they should have fired (the tear gas) at the pitch, not at the stands,” Danny Agung Prasetyo, coordinator of the Arema supporters’ group, told AFP.

“Many of the victims were in the stands. They panicked from the gas,” he added.

Alerts before the game

Arema FC fans set up a makeshift center in Malang on Monday to receive complaints and said they will file a lawsuit against the officers whom they accuse of causing numerous deaths by acting indiscriminately against spectators.

The local police chief was sacked on Monday, nine officers were suspended and 19 others are being questioned, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said.

Police intelligence services had alerted the organizing committee to the possibility of incidents during the game, the Indonesian National Police Commission revealed in its preliminary assessments on Tuesday. The use of tear gas was not foreseen in the device.

The Indonesian government suspended the national league and created a commission to investigate the tragedy whose work should be completed in two or three weeks.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Football Federation banned two senior officials from the Arema FC club for life on Tuesday and fined them 250 million Indonesian rupiah (about 16,500 euros).

Since the first details of the stampede emerged over the weekend, calls for an independent investigation have increased.

“There is no directive to fire tear gas and close the gates,” Albertus Wahyurudhanto, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, told a news conference on Tuesday.

The exasperation of the fans was reflected in the surroundings of the stadium, where numerous graffiti criticized the police. “Our friends died here,” accused one of them.

This Tuesday new vigils were planned for the victims, after the day before, players and fans of Arema gathered at the stadium to leave flowers and pray.

Football violence is a persistent problem in Indonesia that has already led to Persebaya Surabaya supporters being banned. However, fans say they are not to blame.

The Indonesian authorities indicated that more tickets were sold than they should have been and, according to witnesses, some gates to the stadium were closed.

“You could see and feel that something bad could happen. It’s the kind of fear you have when you go to a game here,” said Pangeran Siahaan, an Indonesian soccer commentator.

“There are many dangers every time you go to a football stadium in Indonesia,” he added.

On Tuesday, UEFA announced that all matches in European competitions will observe a minute’s silence this week in memory of the victims of the match in Indonesia.

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