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Eight people dead in crush at African Cup of Nations game in Cameroon


Cameroon players before the match. Picture: Reuters

Cameroon players before the match. Picture: Reuters

Cameroon players before the match. Picture: Reuters

Eight people have now died after a stampede outside a game at the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament in Cameroon, while another seven people are in serious condition in the hospital, authorities said Tuesday.

The death toll increased after two more fans were pronounced dead outside the Messassi hospital, police said. Injured people had initially been rushed to that hospital by police and civilians trying to help. The hospital quickly became overwhelmed and said it couldn't handle all the casualties.

A total of 38 people were hurt in the stampede, which happened Monday night at the Olembe Stadium in the Cameroon capital of Yaounde. The remaining 31 people had light to moderate injuries. The injured are now being treated at four different hospitals, Communication Minister René Sadi said.

The crush came when soccer fans struggled to get into the stadium to watch Cameroon's team play Comoros in a highly-anticipated knockout game at Africa's top soccer tournament. The tragedy may have been connected to fans trying to avoid Covid-19 checks to watch the game.

Local organisers have made it compulsory that fans show proof of negative virus tests and be vaccinated against Covid-19 if they want to attend games at the African Cup. They need to go through sanitary checks as well as security checks at stadiums.

Local TV stations broadcast footage showing people jumping over the security fences at the stadium, while there are reports that police were overwhelmed. The Cameroon government said 57,000 people were at the stadium for the game when the crowd was meant to be restricted to a maximum of 40,000 because of the virus. The Olembe has a capacity of 60,000.

A witness said the stampede at the south entrance of the stadium happened after supporters were directed by security officials toward an entrance gate that was locked. The gate was eventually opened, the witness said, causing a surge and people were trampled. Children were caught up in the stampede, the witness said.

“When the security guys finally began opening the gates, with all the anxiety and after having been locked out ... people pushed the security guys away and forced themselves inside,” said the witness, Marie Asongafack. "That’s where it all began ... By the time I found myself in front, there were people on the ground being trampled on.”

Medical help wasn't immediately available, “so people were just trying their basic first aid on victims,” Asongafack said. “I saw a child less than 10 years old, lifeless. Guys were trying to revive him."

Cameroon President Paul Biya ordered an investigation into the tragedy, which came a day after at least 17 people died after a fire set off a series of explosions at a nightclub in Yaounde.

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The Central African nation is hosting the African Cup for the first time in 50 years and its preparations have been under scrutiny for years. Cameroon was meant to host the tournament in 2019, but that year's event was taken away and awarded to Egypt because of serious problems with Cameroon's preparations, especially in and around stadiums.

The Olembe Stadium, the main stadium for the tournament and the venue for the Feb. 6 final, was one of the arenas that organisers were concerned about. Games are also being played in four other cities.

Cameroon’s Minister of Public Health, Manaouda Malachie, visited the different hospitals where the injured were being treated. He said that 31 of the 38 injured people were responding well to treatment, but the others were in serious condition.

On Tuesday morning, people gathered at the hospitals searching for missing family members.

“I am helpless. The police have not been of any help and I have not been able to trace my two brothers,” said Festus Ndi, a 24-year old student at the University of Yaounde.

Premier League club Everton tweeted: “The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Everton are with the families of those fans who have lost their lives and anyone affected by the tragic events at today’s #AFCON2021 match between Cameroon and Comoros in Yaounde. RIP.”

Cameroon won the game 2-1 to set up a quarter-final date with Gambia.

Jimmy Abdou was sent off after seven minutes as Comoros, minus a recognised goalkeeper due to injury and coronavirus, saw their fairytale run end.

Comoros, ranked 132 in the world, were without the injured Salim Ben Boina for the round-of-16 tie in Yaounde while fellow goalkeepers Ali Ahamada and Moyadh Ousseini had both tested positive for Covid-19.

Ajaccio’s 5ft 8in left-back Chaker Alhadhur took over in goal for a Comoros side who were without several outfield players and coach Amir Abdou to coronavirus.

Karl Toko Ekambi and Vincent Aboubakar were on target as Cameroon secured a quarter-final date with Gambia, but it was not without concern as Youssouf M’Changama thundered home a 30-yard free-kick nine minutes from time.

Alhadhur had barely touched the ball when Abdou received his marching orders for stepping on the back of Moumi Ngamaleu’s ankle.

The former Plymouth and Millwall midfielder was banished after Ethiopian referee Bamlak Tessema Weyesa was advised to go to the VAR monitor.

Comoros, who had booked a last-16 place by beating four-time African champions Ghana, refused to give up and Cameroon keeper Andre Onana made a superb double save from Ahmed Mogni and Mohamed Youssouf.

Toko Ekambi – with Cameroon’s only effort on target in the first half – broke the deadlock after 29 minutes by finding the bottom corner of Alhadhur’s net.

Alhadhur blocked an Aboubakar header at the start of the second half with his legs, before producing a smart double stop to thwart the former Porto striker and Ngamaleu.

Aboubakar, the tournament’s top scorer, slotted home his sixth goal in four games after 70 minutes, but M’Changama gave brave Comoros late hope with the sweetest of strikes.

Gambia had upset Guinea earlier with a 1-0 victory in Bafoussam.

Musa Barrow showed excellent control in the penalty area before sweeping home Gambia’s 71st-minute winner.

Guinea, who were without suspended Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita, struck the woodwork twice in the final seconds.

Gambia had substitute Yusupha Njie sent off four minutes from time for two bookable offences before Guinea’s Ibrahima Conte also saw red in the final seconds.

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