'Bridge sway' caused stampede

2010-11-24 13:10

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

Bayon TV, which serves as a mouthpiece for the government, said that the high-level committee set up to probe the Monday night 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 it was collapsing, they tried to run off.

Officials have said that 378 people were killed and at least 755 others injured in the stampede. The TV report, however, 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.