Mayor under fire for German Love Parade tragedy

26th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

The mayor of the German city of Duisburg resisted on Monday calls to quit after a panicked stampede at the Love Parade music festival left 19 people dead and more than 500 injured.

Authorities had reportedly been warned the western industrial city was too small to host one of Europe's biggest techno music events, while security arrangements have been slammed as being woefully inadequate.

"If the city is guilty of anything then we will assume responsibility," Mayor Adolf Sauerland said in a statement. "There are probing and urgent questions that must be answered."

He added: "I can understand that there are calls for me to resign. But first of all we have to take the time to investigate these awful events."

Police said that the 11 women and eight men died on Saturday as they scrambled to escape from a crush in a narrow, 100-metre (yard) tunnel that served as the only entrance to the festival grounds.

The dead, crushed against the tunnel walls or trampled underfoot, were aged between 20 and 40 and included seven foreigners, from Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, China, Bosnia and Spain.

On Monday prosecutors raised the total nunber of injured at 511, 42 of whom were still in hospital, from a previous estimate of more than 340. One person remained in a critical condition.

Amateur footage from Saturday showed lifeless bodies being passed over the heads of those frantically trying to escape from a huge mass of crowded and panicking people.

"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 on Monday as she braved driving rain to return to the scene.

Prosecutors have begun an enquiry into what Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told reporters on Monday was a "whole range of open questions."

"A full picture and a proper analysis of what happened and what mistakes were possibly made can however only be done once the investigation is completed," he cautioned.

Mayor Sauerland, who staunchly defended what he said was a "solid" security plan at a news conference on Sunday, and who was reportedly pelted with rubbish and needs bodyguards, has come under fierce attack.

"The cynical reaction of the mayor, who said the victims' behaviour was partly to blame, was unacceptable," wrote the Neue Rhein Zeitung, one of several newspapers to focus on his role.

"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 first person to sign the book of condolence at the city hall, whose daughter was at the event, demanded the resignation of both the mayor and the chief of police.

"They should all resign, the head of the police, the mayor. They all failed. The organisation was completely amateurish," said Ralf Menrath, a 55-year-old from Duisburg who works with autistic children.

Flags were at half-mast in the city on Monday after the tragedy, and in the densely populated surrounding Ruhr Valley region, formerly Germany's industrial heartland.

At the entrance to the tunnel, where hundreds of candles, bouquets of flowers and an impromptu remembrance board with hundreds of signatures marked the dead, there were furious messages for the organisers.

"This event should never have taken place here," read one. "You should be ashamed of yourselves," said another.

© 2010 AFP

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