Inquiry after 19 die in stampede at German festival

German prosecutors yesterday opened an investigation into a stampede that killed 19 people and injured 342 at a music festival.

Positions of two of the victims are marked out (photo credit: Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay)

This year's organiser of the Love Parade said the event - which has been held for two decades - would never be held again.

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"The Love Parade was always a peaceful event and a happy party", but would forever be overshadowed by the tragedy, Rainer Schaller said.

"It's over for the Love Parade," he said.

He spoke at a press conference where authorities faced tough questions, but provided few details, about why up to hundreds of thousands of people were funnelled through a single highway underpass on to the grounds of former freight railway station used to host the party.

Rainer Wendt, the leader of a major German police union, said his group warned a year ago that the town of Duisburg was an unacceptable location for the Love Parade.

"The city is too narrow, too small to manage the masses of people," Mr Wendt said.

He blamed the city mayor and Love Parade organisers for the tragedy.

The founder of the Love Parade, Matthias Ringh - generally known by his artist's name, Dr Motte - blamed this year's organisers, saying "one single entrance through a tunnel lends itself to disaster. I am very sad".

German media reported that there were at least 1.4 million people at the event, but police did not confirm that estimate. They said they had no exact figure, but suggested it was much lower, based on the fact that the railway service registered 105,000 as arriving in the city by train in the preceding hours.

Detlef von Schmeling, the police chief in Duisburg, said 16 of the 19 people killed had been identified. They include four foreigners - an Australian, an Italian, a Chinese citizen and a person from Holland.

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Mr von Schmeling said their ages ranged from about 20 to 40.

Witnesses said officers in Duisburg closed the end of the tunnel emptying on to the festival grounds after it became overcrowded around 5pm.

They told revellers over loudspeakers to turn around and walk back in the other direction. But the entrance to the tunnel did not appear to have been closed and people continued piling in, sparking a panic and then a deadly crush.

Witnesses described a desperate scene, as people piled up on each other, or scrambled over others who had fallen.

TV images showed huge masses of people packed inside the wide tunnel and people struggling to escape up an embankment when the chaos broke out.Partygoer Udo Sandhfer said that even though no-one else was being let out, 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.

City officials chose not to evacuate the site, fearing it might spark more panic, and many people continued partying, unaware of the deaths.

Rescue workers carried away the injured as techno music thundered in the background.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday: "The young people came to celebrate and instead there are dead and injured. I am horrified by the suffering and the pain."

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