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17 children among the 125 dead in Indonesia soccer stampede

MALANG, Indonesia - Indonesia will set up an independent fact-finding team to investigate the deadly soccer stampede that killed at least 125 people in East Java at the weekend, authorities said on Monday. 

Seventeen children were counted among the dead, as the local mayor promised to focus on providing trauma counselling for those affected in one of the world's worst stadium disasters. 

On Monday, Malang Mayor Sutiaji described reactions among some of the spectators who witnessed the Saturday night tragedy as it unfolded. 

"We have a fifth-grader who watched and witnessed both of his parents killed," an emotional Mayor Sutiaji said in a video from his office, his voice cracking. 

He said the child stopped speaking for a day from shock. 

"He is the only child and is now with his grandfather... What we are concerned about is child trauma," he said, adding that the government would prioritise and bear all costs of trauma counselling required by those who witnessed the event. 

The independent investigation team would find the perpetrators behind the disaster, Chief security minister Mahfud MD told a news conference.

Pressure is building on Indonesian authorities to explain how the disaster happened. 

Violence and hooliganism have long been features of Indonesian football, especially in places such as Jakarta, the capital, but Saturday's disaster in a small town in Java has thrown a spotlight on the problem.

"My family and I didn't think it would turn out like this," said Endah Wahyuni, the elder sister of two boys, Ahmad Cahyo, 15, and Muhammad Farel, 14, who died after being caught in the melee.

"They loved soccer, but never watched Arema live at Kanjuruhan stadium, this was their first time," she told Reuters at her brothers' funeral on Sunday, referring to the home side they backed.

The boys were among 17 children killed, said state news agency Antara, citing figures from the women's empowerment and child protection ministry.

"Seventeen children died and seven were treated, but there is a possibility that could increase," said Nahar, a ministry official.

Indonesian daily Koran Tempo ran a black front page on Monday, centred on the words "Our Football Tragedy", printed in red along with a list of the dead.

Saturday's deadly crush came as panicking spectators tried to escape the overpacked stadium after police fired tear gas to disperse fans from the losing home side who ran onto the pitch at the end of the match.

Home side Arema FC had lost the match 3-2 to Persebaya Surabaya, though authorities had said tickets were not issued to Persebaya fans over security concerns.

    Arema FC supporters enter the field after the team lost to Persebaya at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang on Oct 1, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
     

    The incident was a "dark day for all involved", said FIFA, the governing body for world soccer, which has asked Indonesian football authorities for a report on the incident.

    Its safety regulations say firearms or "crowd control gas" should be used at matches.

    Police and sport officials have being sent to the city of Malang to investigate an incident that ranks among the world's deadliest stadium disasters.

    "All those responsible should be held accountable for this disaster, regardless of their status or position," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

    "It's not enough for the national police and the Football Association of Indonesia to conduct their own investigation because they may be tempted to downplay or undermine full accountability for officials involved," he added in a statement. 

    • Additional reporting from Reuters 
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