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Uganda arrest over deadly New Year fireworks crush

Witnesses say only one out of four exit gates at the Freedom City mall was open when the crush killed ten people, mostly children happened.

BBC News

Police in Uganda have arrested the high-profile events organiser behind a New Year concert that ended in a crush killing 10 people, mostly children.

Witnesses say only one out of four exit gates at the Freedom City mall was open when the crush happened.

Abbey Musinguzi, also known as Abitex, is a much sought-after promoter.

The crush occurred as the crowd rushed to the venue’s parking lot to watch a fireworks display at midnight in the capital, Kampala.

Only one of the four exits at the Freedom City mall was open at the time, police spokesman Fred Enanga said.

“The revellers had one point of entry and exit. Therefore several victims were trapped and trampled upon through the narrow passage which became a bottleneck for many, mostly juveniles,” he said.

He added they were investigating if “negligence” was to blame for the loss of life.

An estimated 500 people were at the venue along the Kampala-Entebbe highway when the crush happened.

The mall, which has an indoor children’s play area and a swimming pool, is a popular venue for family events.

A local NTV news broadcast showed people in tears after the deadly incident

A local NTV news broadcast showed people in tears after the deadly incident© Reuters

The mother of two of the children who died said she started heading out of the venue at 23:00 local time, but the people manning the only exit leading to the parking lot closed it and ordered them back inside, trapping people in a narrow alley, local Daily Monitor news site reports.

“Many people started fainting and children started crying. My older children were holding each other and got separated from me… I then started looking for the younger children but I couldn’t move. I was also struggling to stay alive. Some people fell down.”

She managed to get out of the crowd and started looking for her children, but found their bodies at different hospitals.

Some people died on the spot from suffocation while others died later in local clinics.

Local media report that the event organisers had closed the other three exit gates to prevent people who didn’t have tickets from using them to enter the venue.

The event organisers have not made any public comment.

A spokesman for the Kampala Metropolitan Police, Patrick Onyango, told the BBC on Sunday that seven children were among the dead.

Police said on Monday that the investigations were ongoing and they are looking for other people who were involved in organising the event.

Other businesses in the shopping centre are operating as usual but a police tape has been put around the scene of the crush.

Vice-President Jessica Alupo met parents of the bereaved and announced that the government would give them each five million Ugandan shillings ($1,300; £1,100) for funeral expenses.

Ugandans have been enjoying the December holiday celebrations for the first time since 2020 when the government banned public gatherings as a health measure to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

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