Love Parade toll rises to 21 as organisers blamed

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The death toll from the crush at Germany's Love Parade festival rose to 21 on Wednesday, as a media report cited a preliminary investigation saying organisers were at least partly to blame.

Prosecutors told AFP that a 25-year-old German woman succumbed overnight to her injuries from a panicked stampede in a narrow tunnel that served as the only entrance to the grounds hosting Saturday's techno music festival.

Organisers had dismissed fears over safety flaws for the rave, during which more than 500 were also injured, according to a probe leaked to Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily.

The report also charged that Love Parade organiser, Rainer Schaller, incorrectly assessed how revellers would act after reaching the festival grounds through the tunnel.

He apparently did not believe there would be a significant blockage as huge parade floats would break up the crowds and force them away from the exit of the tunnel, allowing others to gain access to the grounds.

According to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the interior ministry report will say that in fact the floats were too close to the tunnel's exit, inhibiting the flow of people through the 100-metre (100-yard) long tunnel.

Furthermore, food stalls at the tunnel's exit encouraged people to stay in the area, adding to the blockage. The organisers also failed to provide as many security officials as promised and did not install video cameras.

Schaller defended himself in an interview with mass circulation Bild daily, saying he "never put anyone under pressure" to hold the festival despite safety fears.

He acknowledged there were qualms but said there were always concerns over an event of this magnitude and pushed the blame back onto the city of Duisburg, whose under-fire mayor Adolf Sauerland authorised the parade.

"When I get a permit from the authorities that has been examined over a six-month period and has been discussed with all participants, then I have to assume as an organiser that everything will work," said Schaller.

He also waved away claims that profit played a part in the determination to hold the event come what may.

"The Love Parade has always been a festival for the people. The Love Parade has never made money. Quite the opposite: it costs three million euros (four million dollars) for the day. Most of that goes on security," he said.

But he admitted that initial estimates that 1.4 million people had turned up to the festival might have been overblown.

"Such figures are estimates. At such a long drawn out event, people come and go. And they are not all there at the same time. The fact is: up until 2:00 pm (1200 GMT), only 105,000 people had arrived by train.

"And pictures from the air show that at the time of the tragedy, the grounds were only 75-percent full."

Asked whether the high initial participant estimate was "only PR and not the actual number," Schaller replied: "I cannot deny that."

© 2010 AFP

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