Mayor urged to quit after German Love Parade tragedy

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The mayor of the German city of Duisburg faced intense pressure to quit Monday two days after a panicked stampede at the Love Parade festival left 19 people dead.

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

"Even if prosecutors are still conducting their investigation, it is clear Duisburg city officials failed completely," the local Neue Rhein Zeitung (NRZ) said in an editorial.

"Even on the evening of the accident, while seriously injured people were dying in hospital, officials were cowardly trying to talk their way out of it and even defending their security plan."

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 Adolf 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, has come under fierce attack.

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

Sauerland said Monday he did not rule out stepping down.

"Yesterday and today the question of who was responsible was asked, including about me. I will ask myself this question," he told radio station WDR2.

Police said that the 11 women and eight men died 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 were aged between 20 and 40 and included seven foreigners, from Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, China, Bosnia and Spain. More than 340 people were injured. None of them was in a critical condition on Monday.

Television pictures on Saturday showed lifeless bodies being passed over the heads of those frantically trying to escape while oblivious revellers danced.

"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.

Flags were at half-mast in the city on Monday after the tragedy, and in the surrounding region.

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.

Monday's edition of the daily Stadt-Anzeiger in nearby Cologne said the mayor had been warned in writing in October 2009 that the grounds were too narrow for the expected crowds but that the concerns went unheeded.

Spiegel magazine said on its website that the festival only had authorisation for 250,000 revellers instead of for 1.4 million people who organisers said had attended.

© 2010 AFP

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