Stampede at New Year’s Celebration Kills Dozens in Ivory Coast

Posted By Urban News Hour | January 1, 2013

At least 60 people were killed in Ivory Coast’s economic capital, Abidjan, as a New Year’s fireworks celebration turned into a deadly stampede early on Tuesday.

The crowd of thousands was leaving the sprawling stadium in the downtown Plateau neighborhood after the last fireworks had signaled the new year when panic struck. In the crush, dozens were trampled underfoot, officials in Abidjan said Tuesday

Many were pushed into a small gully adjoining the Houphouët-Boigny stadium on the Boulevard de la République, in the heart of the city’s compact central business district, then crushed as the panicked crowd surged over them.

Children appeared to be among the injured and dead: the state television station, RTI, showed images of wounded children in one of the city’s hospitals, as well as pregnant women stretched on cots.

Ivorian officials Tuesday said that they were baffled as to what set off the stampede but that an investigation had been launched.

“The precise circumstances of this tragic occurrence are being looked into by the security services,” Ivory Coast’s interior minister, Hamed Bakayoko, said on RTI Tuesday. RTI showed rescue workers carrying bodies through the streets and ambulances lined up in the darkness.

Mr. Bakayoko told RTI that “the New Year’s Eve celebrations brought many onto the streets of Plateau. There were 50,000 people on the streets. They were going home, and there was a stampede.”

At the scene, witnesses said there were piles of abandoned shoes.

The head of the rescue services, Lt. Col. Issa Sakho, told an RTI reporter that the “flow of people created a great crush, and in the stampede there were people who were trampled, people who were suffocated.” More than 200 were wounded, officials said.

Careless police action could have incited the stampede, witnesses said. At the hospital in the city’s adjoining Cocody neighborhood, one of the wounded — a young man who declined to give his name — said that the police had tried to disperse the crowd as it was leaving the stadium. That action provoked a mass panic, the young man said, and the crowd surged forward.

The Ivorian police and security services, with a long record of brutality, are feared by the people of Abidjan, a sprawling city of some four million people. Arbitrary arrests, unpunished beatings, and impromptu traffic stops, often to extort money, are not uncommon in the city’s poorer neighborhoods.

The police and security forces were the principal instruments in a campaign of repression that lasted months in 2010-2011 by the deposed former president, Laurent Gbagbo, who was ousted by rebel fighters and French forces after he failed to give up office after his electoral defeat. Some 3,000 people were killed in the civil war precipitated by Mr. Gbagbo’s refusal.

The fireworks celebration, sponsored by the government of the country’s president,Alassane Ouattara, was the second since Mr. Gbagbo’s ouster. It was intended as another sign that Ivory Coast, with its surging economic growth rate and renewed foreign investment, has emerged from years of political crisis, repression and civil war.

Social, ethnic and political tensions remain acute, however, with some observers warning that Mr. Ouattara has done too little to resolve problems left over from the Gbagbo years.



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