Police fire tear gas on crowd ahead of Afcon opener


MALABO — Thousands of fans forced their way into the Bata Stadium complex for Saturday’s opening match of the African Cup of Nations (Afcon), prompting police to use tear gas.

Police tried to check fans’ tickets one-by-one at the main gate to the complex ahead of Equatorial Guinea’s match against Libya.

But several times the crush proved too much and the gates were opened to allow scores of supporters through without being checked. On at least one occasion, tear gas was used on the crowd.

The gate opens onto a road leading to the stadium proper. In theory, fans will still need a ticket to get inside. As the crush threatened a potential disaster, Israeli security advisers ordered the gates to be opened.

‘It’s ok, it’s ok,’ the Israelis shouted as the local police looked increasingly nervous and tried vainly to shut the gate.

Earlier, it appeared security forces had the situation in hand.

Police had set up roadblocks within a few kilometres in all directions from the stadium approach, while all vehicles entering the stadium complex had to pass through a giant metal detector. Rifle-toting guards wearing all-over body armour were frisking fans.

Inside the complex, a police canine patrol was at the ready, along with armoured vehicles with heavy-calibre gun turrets.

But as the pressure of numbers grew as kick-off approached, that tactic was soon exposed, causing fans to line up for several hundred meters along the road approaching the stadium.

Eventually, the crush of ticket-waving fans threatened to force the gates open again until the police were ordered to give up the struggle.

Almost immediately, a secondary gate some 300 meters away was also forced open, prompting police to scurry over.

Riot police with shields and armoured vehicles arrived shortly after, but the pressure had been released by that time and there seemed to be no further problems.