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Deadly Congo Soccer Riot Sparked By Witchcraft Rumor

09/15/08 03:18 PM ET   AP

Congo Witchcraft Riot

KINSHASA, Congo — Accusations that a soccer player was using witchcraft during a match in eastern Congo sparked a riot that killed 13 people, a U.N.-funded radio station reported Monday.

Most of the victims were between the ages of 11 and 16, Radio Okapi said. They were suffocated as panicked crowds ran for the exits during the mayhem Sunday in Butembo in eastern Congo's North Kivu province.

Radio Okapi said police tried to control the violence at Matokeo stadium by firing into the air to protect their commander, who was hit in the head and wounded by fans.

The two local clubs involved were Socozaki and Nyuki System, the radio said.

Dozens of teenagers marched through Butembo's dirt streets Monday in protest, and the regional governor, Julien Mpaluku, paid a visit to the hospital.

Mpaluku said the government was investigating.

He made no mention of witchcraft, but confirmed that soldiers had fired into the air to calm angry crowds. The shooting prompted panic instead, which became fatal "when the crowds all tried to leave at the same time."

"Most of the dead were children, only two or three were adults," Mpaluku said.

North Kivu has been the epicenter of violence between Congo's army and rebels over the last year which has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

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Filed by Nick Graham  |