AT LEAST 61 people, many of them children and teenagers, were crushed to death in a stampede following a New Year's Eve firework display in Ivory Coast.
An estimated 10,000 partygoers were at a sports stadium in the country's commercial capital, Abidjan, for an end-of-year celebration organised by the government.
After an extended fireworks show, hundreds were heading for the exit gates at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium at around 1am local time, as another large group were trying to enter.
Security staff were unable to separate the two crowds and as the crush developed many people panicked and began surging from inside the stadium, trying to leave.
Police and government officials said that 61 people had died and dozens more were injured.
Piles of abandoned shoes and clothing lay scattered outside the stadium as dawn broke, and soldiers and police were deployed along with UN peacekeepers to help people search for their loved ones.
A mother named Zeinab who had taken two of her children to the stadium found one of them in an Abidjan hospital.
Zeinab said she "hurt all over" and showed scratches on her body from being trampled on the floor.
"I don't know what happened but I found myself lying on the ground with people stepping on me, pulling my hair or tearing my clothes."
She said she had been knocked unconscious and that a young man had pulled her from the crowd.
Parents went to the city morgue, the hospital and to the stadium to look for children who are missing.
Mamadou Sanogo was searching for his nine-year-old son, Sayed. "I have just seen all the bodies, but I cannot find my son," he said.
President Alassane Ouattara and his wife visited local hospitals to speak to the injured. He pledged that the government would pay for their treatment.
"This is a real tragedy," Mr Ouattara said earlier at the scene. "We are all in shock." He added that a period of national mourning would be held.
Relatives worried that their loved ones had not yet returned from the party rushed to local hospitals hoping to find them.
As many as 100 people were injured, according to the country's main TV station's news. Doctors said that several were in intensive care with life-threatening injuries.
Children and teenagers were the worst affected, with at least 28 of the dead aged between eight and 15, local media said. Eyewitnesses said that as people surged forward, many children lost their footing and were trampled by the crowd.
"In the crush, people were walked over and suffocated by the crowd," Lt Col Issa Sako, head of the military rescue effort, told public television.
The New Year's Eve party had been organised to promote a year of peace during 2012 following a disputed election in 2010 that led to months of clashes between supporters of rival presidential candidates.
The former president, Laurent Gbagbo, is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, accused of orchestrating crimes against humanity in that post-election violence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)