Harare July 9th 2000

During Zimbabwe's World Cup qualifier against South Africa, fans among the 35,000 crowd began throwing things after South Africa scored their second goal to make it 2-0 with eight minutes left.

Police fired several volleys of tear gas into the crowd and the game was halted as smoke filled the National Sports stadium in Harare. The referee abandoned the match and the two teams rushed off the field as the tear gas wafted over the ground.

Reuters soccer correspondent Mark Gleeson wrote:

"At that moment, a policeman on the running track surrounding the pitch, just five metres (yards) from where I was sitting, fired a teargas canister up into the crowd.

No command was given to fire, but other police quickly followed their lone colleague's lead. Some spectators said police had been angered by opposition salutes and taunts from the crowd. Chaos erupted in the stands as fans turned on their heels and fled to the narrow exits at the top of the stadium.

One spectator turned to pick up a teargas canister, hurling it back onto the pitch. I tried to grab my equipment but the gas blew right over me and the others sitting nearby. We jumped over the advertising boards and onto the pitch.

The referee abandoned the game as police kept firing more and more teargas canisters.

People were running in all directions. Some carried small children. The players lay down on the ground, their faces pressed into the turf to avoid the gas.

Police were still firing cans of tear gas as the stadium holding 35,000 fans virtually emptied in about four minutes."

The country's health minister blamed both police and match organisers for the stampede.

State-owned television reported that the dead included nine adults -- five women and four men -- and three boys. It gave no details of the 13th death.

"It was an accident which should have been avoided...the police reacted far too extensively. I also blame the organisers because that stadium has problems with the exits which are too small,'' Health Minister Timothy Stamps told the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp on Monday.

Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri and other police officials met on Monday amid growing criticism that police had overreacted when provoked by taunts from supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) at the match.

A football official who declined to be named said police appeared to try to prevent people from fleeing. "Police were deliberately targeting the exits where the people were trying to flee. Ambulances couldn't get into the stadium perimeter,'' the official said.

Injured people lay on benches, stretchers and on the floor, some moaning in pain as they waited for hospital staff to treat the most seriously hurt first.

The spectators were killed and others badly hurt in a stampede for the exits. At least four other disasters at football matches have been caused by police firing into the crowd leading to panic, stampedes and deaths.

FIFA ruled that the National Stadium in Harare, Zimbabwe, may not play host to international soccer for an indefinite period.

The state-owned Herald newspaper on Tuesday criticised police for firing tear gas instead of arresting those who had hurled missiles on to the pitch.

"Our police need to be trained or retrained to use more humane crowd control methods. The starting point is to train the police to respect the sanctity of human life,'' the newspaper said in a front page editorial.

Home Affairs Minister Dumiso Dabengwa told the newspaper: ``I am personally not satisfied with the way the whole situation was handled.''
These depressingly familiar reports come from Reuters

Zimbabwe police have accepted some blame for the deaths of 13 soccer fans in a stampede during a World Cup qualifier, saying five officers might be charged with culpable homicide.

"The performance of our police officers who were on duty on the day leaves a lot to be desired."

Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri told a news conference.

"The police were not coherent in their response to the disturbances within the stadium. I am aware that maybe five officers who were in charge at the stadium may be charged with culpable homicide."

Compare and contrast with Hillsborough.