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17 killed in panic at German festival

By Michael Sohn
Associated Press / July 25, 2010

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BERLIN — A stampede inside a tunnel crowded with techno music fans crushed 17 people to death and injured about 80 at Germany’s famed Love Parade festival on Saturday.

Thousands of other revelers keep partying at the event in Duisburg, near Duesseldorf, unaware of the deadly stampede that started when police tried to block thousands more people from entering the already-jammed parade grounds.

Police were trying to determine exactly what happened, but the situation was “very chaotic,’’ police commissioner Juergen Kieskemper said.

He said police closed off the area where the parade was being held because it was already crowded. They told revelers over loudspeakers to turn around and walk back in the other direction before the panic broke out, he said.

German news agency DAPD reported the victims were crushed in the large tunnel leading to the event site and that emergency workers had trouble getting to them.

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. “The crisis meeting determined not to stop the event because at the moment there are too many people on the grounds,’’ he said.

The Love Parade was once an institution in Berlin, but has been held in the industrial Ruhr region of western Germany since 2007.

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.

Kieskemper said that just before the stampede occurred at about 5 p.m., 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.

Witness 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.’’

“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,’’ he said.

“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.’’

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.

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.

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