Saturday night’s tragedy in the city of Malang left a total of 125 dead and 323 others injured after officers fired tear gas into a packed stadium to quell a field invasion, triggering a stampede.
Dozens of children who became entangled in the chaos were killed, an official from the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection told AFP on Monday.
“According to the latest data we have received, of the 125 people who died in the accident, 32 were children, and the youngest was a toddler aged three or four,” said Nahar, who like many Indonesians only bears one name.
As anger against the police mounted, Indonesian Security Minister Mahfud MD announced that a task force had been formed to investigate.
“We are asking the National Police to find the perpetrators who committed crimes in the coming days,” he said in a broadcast statement.
“We have asked them to… take action against them and we also hope that the national police will evaluate their security procedures.”
Tragedy unfolded as home side Arema FC fans stormed the pitch at Kanjuruhan Stadium after their 3-2 loss to bitter rivals Persebaya Surabaya.
Police responded by launching tear gas into crowded terraces, causing onlookers to flock to small gates where many were trampled or suffocated, witnesses said.
“It felt like people were being put in a tube with a small hole, and then they were being smoked,” said 29-year-old spectator Ahmad Rizal Habibi, who escaped before the crush.
Police described the incident as a riot and said two officers were killed, but survivors accuse them of overreacting and causing the deaths of dozens of onlookers.
“One of our messages is that the authorities are investigating this thoroughly. And we want to be held accountable. Who is to blame?” said 25-year-old Malang resident Andika, who refused to give his last name.
“We want justice for our fallen supporters.”
A witness outside the stadium said police refused to help when the crush took place.
“The place looked like a massive cemetery. Women and children piled on top of each other,” Eko Prianto, 39, told AFP.
“I ran to the police or soldier to help. There were no medics in sight. The police did not help and the soldier threatened to beat me.”
Investigators planned to question football officials Monday, as well as the 18 officers responsible for being “the bearer or operator of the weapons,” national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told a news conference.
In a tearful live speech, Arema FC chairman Gilang Widya Pramana apologized for the club’s role in the tragedy.
“I, as the chairman of Arema FC, will take full responsibility for the incident that occurred. I offer my sincere apologies to the victims, their families, all Indonesians and Liga 1.”
The squad visited the scene of the tragedy on Monday, dressed in black shirts to pay their respects and lay flowers before gathering on the field to pray for the victims.
Kompas newspaper published a black front page with the word “tragedy” and a stadium with the names of victims.
Graffiti plastered on the walls of Kanjuruhan Stadium revealed a bubbling anger at the authorities.
“My siblings have been murdered. Investigate thoroughly,” a message read scribbled on the stadium’s shutters, accompanied by a black ribbon and the date of the disaster.
“ACAB”, an acronym for “all cops are bastards”, was sprayed on another wall.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered compensation for families of the victims of 50 million rupiah (3200 dollars each), a minister said Monday.
He has also announced an investigation into the tragedy.
But human rights groups said officers should be held accountable for using tear gas in a confined space.
Mahfud said the task force for the investigation would be made up of government and football officials, academics and members of the media.
“It is estimated that the task could be completed in the next two or three weeks,” he said.
Human Rights Watch said the police and the Indonesian Football Federation “may be tempted to downplay or undermine full responsibility for officials”.
Fan violence is an enduring problem in Indonesia.
Witnesses say home team supporters stormed the field after their loss to Persebaya Surabaya.
Fans of Persebaya Surabaya were banned from the match for fear of violence.
Mahfud said 42,000 tickets had been allocated for 38,000 seats.
After the stampede, Arema fans threw rocks at officers and set fire to vehicles, including a police car, on the streets of Malang, police said.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino called the tragedy a “dark day” for football.
World government safety guidelines prohibit the use of gas for crowd control by police or stewards on the field.