Eight die in Liberia soccer stadium crush

MONROVIA, June 2 Mon Jun 2, 2008 11:49am BST

MONROVIA, June 2 (Reuters) - Eight people were killed in a stadium crush in Liberia on Sunday after thousands of soccer fans crowded in to watch a World Cup qualifier match between Liberia and Gambia, officials said on Monday.

Most of the victims were young men who died when crowds of people crushed up against entrance gates that United Nations peacekeepers and police had closed to prevent more people entering already overcrowded stands, officials said.

"Eight persons died. Some of them died while trying to enter the gates. There were scuffles at some of these gates," Paul Mulbah, a member of the national mobilisation committee for Liberia's "Lone Stars" national team, told Reuters.

A hospital source confirmed eight people were killed.

"They were struggling to enter the field. They did not die in the stadium. The crowd was huge outside the stadium and people walked on each other," Estella E. Johnson, who was working as a volunteer marshal, told Reuters on Monday.

"I saw with my own eyes six bodies. All six of them were young boys in their 20s and 30s. One of them had blood in his nose," she said.

A ticketing official blamed the overcrowding on touts selling fake tickets for the match.

"We printed 35,000 tickets, which is the capacity of the stadium. We were later told that there were some unscrupulous people who printed fake tickets," said the official, who declined to be identified.

"When we heard of this we informed the police and the public," he said.

A U.N. water truck and a fire truck also sprayed water over the crowd outside in an attempt to reduce crushing, U.N. spokesman Ben Malor said. U.N. peacekeepers have been stationed in Liberia following a civil war that ended in 2003,

"Apparently when they (U.N. peacekeepers) realised that the stadium was packed they recommended to the organisers that the gates be closed. It would have been worse if the gates were not closed. We all regret this incident," Malor said.

Sunday's match ended in a 1-1 draw.

The Samuel K. Doe stadium complex was built by China in the 1980s but was badly damaged in the civil war. China finished refitting the complex last year. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com) (Reporting by Alphonso Toweh; writing by Alistair Thomson)