Saturday, July 24, 2010

German Love Festival Sours, Leaving 19 Dead, 342 Injured and Officials Pointing Fingers

Cops create stampede by holding back crowd

DUISBURG, Germany (AP) - 25 July, 2010

A stampede inside a tunnel crowded with techno music fans left 19 people dead and 342 injured at the famed Love Parade festival in western Germany on Saturday.

Other revelers initially kept partying at the event in Duisburg, near Duesseldorf, unaware of the deadly panic that started when police tried to prevent thousands more from entering the already-jammed parade grounds.

Authorities were still trying to determine exactly what happened at the event, which drew hundreds of thousands of people, but the situation was ''very chaotic,'' police commissioner Juergen Kieskemper said.

Emergency workers had trouble getting to the victims in the wide, 500- to 600-meter-long (500- to 600-yard) tunnel that led to the grounds. The area was a hectic scene, with bodies lying on the ground as rescue workers rushed to aid them. Many of the injured were loaded into Red Cross vans and driven away.

Kieskemper said that just before the stampede occurred at about 5 p.m. (1500 GMT, 11 a.m. EDT), police closed off the area where the parade was being held because it was already overcrowded. They told revelers over loudspeakers to turn around and walk back in the other direction before the panic broke out, he said. This dumb blunder only confused the crowd and heightened the panic.

Cops have been making this same dumb mistake with large crowds for decades and never seem to learn. "Crowd Control 101, for police, needs to be re-written to end this macabre practice," said a government functionary who was not authorized to speak and was arrested and water-boarded by angry cops about a half-hour after his statement. It was unclear whether the man was being turned over to Syrian or Libyan officials for extreme rendition. "He criticized us, which is counterproductive and negative," said a former member of the Gestapo, 98, who is President of the National Union of Police Officers and Neo Nazis. (NUPONAZ).

Eyewitness Udo Sandhoefer told n-tv television that even though no one else was being let in people still streamed into the tunnel, causing ''a real mass panic.'' "You can't close only the end of a tunnel and still permit people to enter from the other end," said Sandhoefer, who was labeled a suspected terrorist and taken away in a black, sealed Humvee.

''At some point the column (of people) got stuck, probably because everything was closed up front, and we saw that the first people were already lying on the ground,'' said Sandhoefer, before he was whisked away by authorities.

''Others climbed up the walls and tried somehow to get into the grounds from the side, and the people in the crowd that moved up simply ran over those who were lying on the ground.''said an anonymous source after witnessing Sanhoefer's removal.

Another witness, a young man who wasn't named, told n-tv the tunnel became so crowded that people began falling. ''It got tighter and tighter from minute to minute and at some point everyone just wanted out,'' he said. ''People were just pushed together until they fell over.''

Duisburg city officials decided at a crisis meeting to let the parade go on to prevent more panic and another stampede, said city spokesman Frank Kopatschek.

Police initially reported 10 deaths, before raising the toll to 15, then 17, and today 19. The original injured count was 80, now raised to 342, An official "counter" from the Census Dept. was dispatched to assist in counting the corpses and the injured. When asked how she planned to conduct the recount, she stated, "One, two, three, four and so on to the last injured person and the last corpse."

It is the worst accident of its kind since nine people were crushed to death and 43 more were injured at a rock festival in Roskilde, Denmark, in 2000. That fatal accident occurred when a huge crowd pushed forward during a Pearl Jam gig.

Germany's new president expressed his dismay at the deaths as did Chancellor Merkel. No public official expressed glee over the deaths and injuries.

''Such a catastrophe that brings death, suffering and pain during a peaceful festival of happy young people is terrible,'' President Christian Wulff said, in a pre-recorded statement issued by his office. He currently is vacationing on the Black Sea and was unavailable to comment in person.

The Love Parade was once an institution in Berlin, but has been held in the industrial Ruhr region of western Germany since 2007, when Chancellor Merkle declared it un-German and banned revelers from the nation's capital.

The original Berlin Love Parade grew from a 1989 peace demonstration into a huge outdoor celebration of club culture that drew about 1.5 million people at its peak in 1999. But it suffered from financial problems and tensions with city officials in later years, and eventually moved.


Gera reported from Berlin. Associated Press Writer Geir Moulson contributed to this report from Berlin; the Graywolf edited and rewrote most of the material from Texas.

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