'Why?': Grieving German town seeks answers on stampede

26th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

"Why?". A single word on a small white board amid hundreds of flowers and candles outside the tunnel where 19 died at the Love Parade sums up the disbelief of this mourning German city.

A huge white board of condolence to mark those crushed or trampled to death in a stampede at what was supposed to be a joyous party has attracted hundreds of names, as people braved unseasonal driving rain to pay their last respects.

A cross made of ice lay at the foot of a set of narrow steps, barely wide enough for one person, where several died on Saturday in a scramble to escape the crush at the giant techno music festival in western Duisburg.

And the banks at the sides of the tunnel entrance are now almost completely shorn of grass, evidence of a desperate bid to escape the panic, described by many witnesses as "hell on earth."

Fittingly for a tragedy which has touched several countries and in which seven foreigners died, flags from Italy, Spain and New Zealand mingled with a pair of German football scarves.

Wrenching messages of love and anger have been left at the scene. One board reads: "Our hearts are with you. Our deepest condolences to the families. RIP."

Others ask "Nineteen dead! How could it have come to this?"

But for many, grief has turned to anger, directed at the organisers of the event, accused of ignoring warnings that the small city of 500,000 was too small for a festival that attracted three times that many.

"I accuse the organisers responsible. You have killed our children," read one note, signed "a mother."

Others wrote: "You should be ashamed of yourself" and "this event should never have taken place here."

And as the flags outside the soaring Gothic city hall fluttered at half mast in the stiff breeze, anger was directed at those inside, especially Mayor Adolf Sauerland, who dodged questions of responsibility at a press conference after the catastrophe.

A vicious editorial in the local paper, the Neue Rhein Zeitung, called for him to resign immediately, accusing him of shaming the dead with his actions.

"The cynical reaction of the mayor, who said the victims' behaviour was partly to blame was unbearable."

"His scandalous position was nothing less than a mockery of the dead -- of young people who came from afar to party and who died because of your overburdened organisation," the paper said.

The paper's readers were equally furious. Karsten Ophardt from Duisburg wrote: "Resign immediately," adding that the mayor's view that the security plan had worked was a "slap in the face" for the dead.

In an atmosphere of sadness tinged with anger, those who came to pay their respects said the police and the town organisers should share the blame for the tragedy.

"We were in the tunnel, but we were lucky. When we heard there were four dead, we managed to get out," Evie Aslanidou, 20, a Greek student living in the town, told AFP.

"The police just stood around and did nothing."

Another local resident, Richard Hatenker, a 62-year-old pensioner, also blamed the police for standing idly by. "The police share the responsibility. They just did nothing when they saw the situation was developing," he said.

"When you need the police, they are just not there. I have such a feeling of hate for them right now."

© 2010 AFP

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