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Indonesia probes top officers as football stadium disaster fatalities rise

Elite Indonesian police officers are under investigation over a stadium stampede that has killed 131 people, including dozens of children, in one of the deadliest disasters in football history.

On Tuesday, as public anger grew, police moved to punish those responsible for the crush in the city of Malang that witnesses say started when officers fired tear gas into packed stands to quell a pitch invasion.

“As the regional police chief, I am concerned, saddened and at the same time I am sorry for the shortcomings in the security process,” East Java police chief Nico Afinta told a press conference.

The terraces of the Kanjuruhan stadium were packed on Saturday evening with 42,000 “Aremania”, or Arema FC fans, for a match against fierce rivals Persebaya Surabaya.

But after a 2-3 defeat, the first at home for more than two decades to their adversaries, fans streamed down to the pitch to confront players and management.

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

Indonesia’s football federation banned two officials from Arema FC for life on Tuesday over the weekend tragedy. The club was also fined $16,398), Erwin Tobing, the head of the association’s discipline committee, told a news conference.

Meanwhile, officials revised the death toll upwards from 125, with local health official Wiyanto Wijoyo saying six more victims had succumbed to their injuries.

READ MORE: Indonesia calls for punishment of ‘perpetrators’ in stadium stampede

Calls for independent probe

Officers responded to the pitch invasion by fans with force, kicking and hitting them with batons, according to witnesses and video footage, prompting more fans to enter the pitch.

“If there was a riot, it (the tear gas) should be fired to the pitch, not in the stand,” Danny Agung Prasetyo, coordinator of supporter group Arema DC, told AFP news agency.

The Malang police chief was replaced on Monday, nine officers were suspended and 19 others were put under investigation over the disaster in the stadium, which was filled with only hometown Arema FC fans, national police spokesperson Dedi Prasetyo said.

The Indonesian government suspended the country’s national football league and announced a task force to investigate the tragedy. It said the probe would take two to three weeks.

Calls for an independent investigation have grown since details of the stampede started to emerge over the weekend.

READ MORE: A look back into deadly football stadium tragedies

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