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Ghana tragedy: Police suspended

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ACCRA, Ghana (CNN) -- Six police officials have been suspended following Wednesday's soccer stadium tragedy.

The six were in charge of security at the 45,000-capacity Accra Stadium, where a crush of fans left 126 people dead.

The police have been widely blamed for causing the tragedy, the worst soccer disaster in African history.

In a televised address to the nation, President John Kufuor said that any officials found guilty of negligence by a government commission would be dealt with severely.

"I would like to assure my fellow Ghanaians that anyone found guilty by the commission of any wilful excess will face the full rigours of the law," he said.

  AUDIO

Journalist Cameron Duodu: This is disgraceful for Ghana

590K/54 sec.
AIFF or WAV sound

Journalist Kwaku Sakyi-Ado: National mourning declared

940K/87 sec.
AIFF or WAV sound

Teargas

Football Commentator Mark Gleeson: Use of tear gas caused deaths

910K/84 sec.
AIFF or WAV sound

Ghana

Francisca Ashietey-Odunton, Ghana Television News: Criticism of police

510K/47 sec.
AIFF or WAV sound
 
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At the same time the President, who was reported to be "totally devastated" by the incident, stressed that the government was not looking for scapegoats.

"This is not a time to apportion blame or seek scapegoats," he said. "Let us not rush to judgement."

He said that all medical expenses of those injured in the tragedy would be met by the government, and called on the people of Ghana to show dignity and restraint.

"The eyes of the world are upon us," he said. "Let us show the world that we are a dignified and peace-loving people. Let us all be united and support each other in this moment of national grief."

The disaster occurred five minutes from the end of a match between local team Hearts of Oak and arch-rivals Asante Kotoko.

According to eyewitnesses some fans began throwing bottles and chairs onto the pitch.

Police responded by firing tear gas into the crowd, thereby provoking the fatal stampede.

"It was all the fault of the police," said survivor Ebenezer Nortey, an electrical technician.

"We started begging the police not to fire any tear gas again. But they went ahead."

CNN's Charlayne Hunter-Gault said: "Police rushed in, firing tear gas to subdue the crowd.

"But the stinging gas caused panic as fans charged towards the gates, crushing and suffocating many along the way."

Survivor Thomas Akazara, 39, recalled the full horror of the scene: "There was no breathing and there was no way out," he said. "After 20 minutes I was gasping for air. I even said my last prayer."

Three days of mourning began on Friday for those who died. A memorial service will be held on Sunday.

The government has also set up a committee of religious leaders to console the bereaved families, and a funeral committee to liaise with them about the burials.

In addition to the full government investigation police have launched their own internal probe into the tragedy.

"I can assure you that no officer will be shielded if found guilty of unprofessionalism," police Inspector General Ernest Owusu Poku said.

It seems unlikely that these moves will be enough to assuage popular anger, however.

On Thursday police were forced to fire shots into the air to disperse a mob who had attacked a police station in Accra, bent on revenge for the disaster.

This was the fourth soccer disaster in Africa during the past month. Forty-three people were killed April 11 at a stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Another crush on April 29 killed eight people in Lubumbashi, Congo. And on May 6, fighting broke out among fans at a soccer match in Ivory Coast, killing one person and injuring 39.

Africa hopes to host the 2010 World Cup -- the world's biggest sporting event after the Olympic Games -- despite widespread concerns about stadium safety.

South Africa lost out by one vote to host the 2006 World Cup, which was awarded to Germany by soccer's Swiss-based world governing body, FIFA.

FIFA Spokesman Andreas Herren said the disaster should not rule the continent out as a candidate to host the 2010 World Cup.

"The fact that there has been a rise in such disasters in Africa is of course a cause for concern," he said, speaking in Zurich, Switzerland.

"But that doesn't mean Africa won't be considered. In the meantime, we should have the decency to let Ghana bury its dead."



RELATED STORY:
Police blamed for Ghana tragedy
May 10, 2001
125 killed in Ghana soccer crush
May 9, 2001

RELATED SITES:
Ghana Football Association
Accra Hearts of Oak
Assante Kotoko

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