At least 16 people have been crushed to death and dozens more injured in Madagascar at a stadium hosting national independence day celebrations in the capital, Antananarivo.
The incident occurred on Wednesday afternoon outside the Mahamasina Stadium, where several thousand people had gathered for a concert following the traditional military parade held to mark the national holiday.
The bodies of 16 people killed, including three children, were being stored in the mortuary of Joseph Ravoahangy Andrianavalona Hospital in the city. Photos showed the dead lying on the ground partially covered by white sheets.
Some 80 people were wounded, Olivat Rakoto Alson, the head of the hospital said.
Witnesses at the hospital told AFP news agency that security forces had opened the gates to allow spectators to enter the enclosure, causing the crowd to mass outside the stadium.
Police then immediately closed the gates and blocked the crowd, which caused the deadly pile-up, witnesses claimed.
“When the organisers opened the gate, we were in the front row in the queue,” Jean Claude Etienne Rakotoarimanana, who suffered bruises from the stampede, told AFP.
“Suddenly, people ran to get in front of us. They shoved us, some even punched us and pulled us,” he added, saying he fainted during the commotion.
Chief of the National Gendarmerie, General Richard Ravalomanana, offered a different account, saying the crowd had misheard that the gates had been opened.
“People tried to force the doors but they remained closed, the crowd kept pushing,” he said.
Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina offered condolences over the deaths at a press conference on Wednesday with his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, who was the guest of honour for celebrations of the 59th anniversary of Madagascar’s independence.
Earlier on Wednesday, the two leaders had attended a military parade in the same stadium.
“There were too many people unable to enter the stadium,” which led to the stampede, Rajoelina said, adding that the state would cover the hospital bills of those injured.
Rajoelina later visited the wounded in the hospital, as did Prime Minister Christian Ntsay.
Wednesday’s incident was the second deadly stampede at Mahamasina Stadium after a similar incident before the start of a qualifier for the African Cup in September killed one and injured 30 people.
In 2016, the stadium was the site of a deadly bomb attack, which killed three people and wounded many others.