KINSHASA, Congo: A stampede at a soccer stadium in Congo’s capital killed at least 15 people after angry fans threw rocks from the stands, prompting security officers to fire tear gas that caused crowds to flee in panic, government officials and witnesses said Monday.
The stampede at the Tata Raphael Stadium in Kinshasa happened at the end of a match Sunday between two popular Congolese teams, AS Vita Club and TP Mazembe.
At least 21 others were injured during the melee, said Gov. Andre Kimbuta, who has set up a commission to investigate the incident.
Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende Monday defended the actions of the security officers.
“It is false to say that the violence was started by the tear gas, which was used to protect people being threatened by elements in the stands who were acting like militiamen.”
Witnesses said that angry fans threw objects onto the field including rocks in the final minutes of the match on the last day of the league season. The home team, AS Vita, was losing 1-0.
Kanga Yves told the Associated Press that the crowds were trampled as they tried to flee the tear gas, and that he had seen at least eight bodies.
The stampede then caused a recently restored wall and gate to collapse, African soccer body the Confederation of African Football said in a statement Monday. The continental body has also asked Congolese soccer authorities for a report.
Altercations have previously erupted when Kinshasa-based AS Vita played Lubumbashi-based TP Mazembe, a four-time African club champion that played at FIFA’s Club World Cup in 2010.
Sanctions had been imposed last season on the teams after a match in the city of Lubumbashi, U.N.-backed Radio Okapi reported.
Sunday’s Kinshasa stadium stampede also came days after Ghana marked the anniversary of Africa’s worst football disaster. Over 120 people were killed on May 9, 2001, when police fired tear gas at a stadium in the Ghanaian capital Accra because of crowd trouble at a game, also causing a stampede.