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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Swaying bridge blamed for stampede

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A Cambodian woman views photos of stampede victims at Preah Kossamak Hospital in Phnom Penh (AP)

An investigation into a stampede that killed hundreds of revellers at a festival in the Cambodian capital has concluded that it was set off when a crowded bridge started swaying, local media has reported.

Bayon TV, which serves as a mouthpiece for the government, said that the high-level committee set up to probe Monday night’s tragedy found that many of the people on the bridge were from the countryside and unaware that it was normal for a suspension bridge to sway.

In their fear the bridge was collapsing, they tried to run off, the initial report said.

Officials have said that 378 people were killed and at least 755 injured in the stampede, but the TV report amended the number of casualties to 750, of whom 350 died. The reason for the discrepancy in the figures was not immediately clear.

The report said the committee based its conclusion on the cause of the stampede from investigations and testimony of witnesses. It happened when tens of thousands of panicked people tried to flee an island in the Bassac River in the capital, Phnom Penh.

Witnesses have criticised authorities for causing congestion by blocking a second bridge across the river despite the huge crowds that had gathered for the festival, and for a slow and confused emergency response.

Prime minister Hun Sen has described the stampede as the biggest tragedy since the communist Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, which left an estimated 1.7 million people dead in the late 1970s. He has declared a day of national mourning on Thursday.

Tens of thousands of residents across the capital lit candles and made offerings to appease the souls of those who died.

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