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Monday, May 25, 2009

Soccer Riot Sparked by Rumors of Witchcraft

A soccer riot in the Congo which led to the death of 13 people (mostly children) was sparked by the rumor that one of the players was using witchcraft. Following a successful goal, a member of one team removed "stuff" from his shirt and threw it in the opposition's goal. According to an eyewitness, members of that team held him down and beat him on the field, claiming he had "thrown witchcraft into their net." Accusations of witchcraft are common in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and across the African continent.

According to early reports from a UN-backed media agency, police fired shots into the air in an attempt to calm a stirring riot, but the shots panicked the crowd instead. The "riot" was caused by soccer fans fleeing the stadium. The victims were stampeded. All suffocated, and only three were adults; most of the victims were aged 11-16.

Congolese officials claim their commander was hit in the head and wounded by the crowd, and that they shot in the air to protect him. Other reports say the police fired into the air to calm the crowd. While an investigation is underway, the fact that shots were fired was confirmed, but no mention of witchcraft was made. Upset teenagers took to the streets in protest.

Later reports indicate police fired tear gas canisters when their commander entered the fray on the field and was pelted with projectiles by the surging crowd. The eyewitness says the commander was among the dead, but the BBC has not confirmed that.

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

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