Indonesian President visits city where 131 people were killed in a stadium stampede

Indonesian President Joko Widodo arrived in the city of Malang on Wednesday, where at least 131 people died in a stadium rush in one of the deadliest disasters in football history.

He greeted the victims’ families upon his arrival at Saiful Anwar hospital in the east Javanese city.

He will then travel to Kanjuruhan Stadium, the scene of the disaster, on Saturday night, according to a presidential official.

The Indonesian leader’s visit came amid anger at police officers’ response to a pitch invasion, after Arema FC fans tried to approach players following their defeat by bitter rivals Persebaya Surabaya.

Police described the incident as a riot and said two officers were killed, but survivors accused them of overreacting.

Officials responded violently to the invasion of the pitch, kicking and hitting fans with batons, according to witnesses and video footage, and pushing fans back into the stands, where many were trampled to death or suffocated after tear gas was fired.

In response to the tragedy, Widodo ordered all games to be suspended, an investigation conducted into what happened, and compensation paid to the victims.

Indonesia’s top security minister said a task force has been set up and the investigation will take two to three weeks.

Police said the investigation focused on six goals at the stadium, using CCTV footage from cameras set up outside of them. The exits were said to be open but too small for the crowds trying to pass through them.

But the Indonesian Football Confederation spokesman said on Tuesday that some gates that should have opened 10 minutes before the final whistle remained closed.

They remained closed “because of late orders” and the officers “had not arrived,” he told a news conference.

The Malang police chief was replaced on Monday, nine officers were suspended and 19 others were under investigation over the disaster at the stadium, police said.

– ‘Don’t go’ –

Witnesses described being enveloped in smoke and stinging their eyes as they rushed toward small exit doors. Several present said the police stood by and refused to help the victims.

“The place looked like a mass cemetery. Women and children were piling up,” Eko Prianto, 39, told AFP.

The Indonesian Football Confederation also imposed sanctions on Arema FC on Tuesday, banning the organizing committee chairman and a security official from football for life and fined the club 250 million rupiah (US$16,500).

Maike Ira Puspita, the federation’s deputy general secretary, told AFP the visiting fans were suspended for fear of fan violence and said the game passed without incident until fans entered the pitch after the final whistle.

She said the federation had sanctioned the club and its officials “due to the … negligence of the whole situation”.

The police’s actions are outside the club’s sphere of influence, the official said.

“We’re not going there,” she said, refusing to answer questions about her behavior after the game.