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Cambodians grieve victims of deadly stampede

Cambodia mourned hundreds of people on Thursday who had died in a bridge crush earlier this week. A lack of crowd control was blamed for the stampede.

Women hold lotus flowers at a memorial service for victims of the stampede

Women hold lotus flowers at a memorial service for victims of the stampede

A military band played as politicians placed garlands, flowers and sticks of burning incense at the makeshift memorial by the bridge to Diamond Island where 347 people died earlier this week.

First to lay a wreath was Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a man who usually revels in his strongman moniker, but who on this day fought to hold back tears.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany fought back tears

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany fought back tears

Flags flew at half-mast across the capital, and many people wore black and white, the traditional colors of mourning.

After the politicians came ordinary Cambodians, young and old, as well as several dozen expatriate workers, all shocked at the enormity of Monday night's tragedy.

Phnom Penh’s governor Kep Chuktema also laid a wreath. "This disaster happened because the bridge simply could not carry so many people. I am very sorry for our people and our families."

Thousands trapped on the bridge

Statements from eyewitnesses and survivors indicate that two crowds of people headed across the bridge at the same time – one leaving the island's entertainment area, the other trying to get to it.

They became trapped in the middle and were quickly hemmed in by thousands more.

Within a short time the bridge was holding as many as 8,000 people, packed, one eyewitness told Deutsche Welle, as tight as fingers.

Young people mourned on Thursday - many of those who died were students

Young people mourned on Thursday - many of those who died were students

People could not move forward or back, and some started fainting. Dozens jumped into the river, but most could not. The crowd eventually collapsed on itself, limbs entangled, five people deep.

Survivors call on government to introduce safety measures

While mourners laid wreaths at the bridge and offered incense for the souls of the dead, some of those who survived spoke of their experience.

So Phum, a 40-year-old construction worker, lay on a rattan mat at Phnom Penh's Calmette Hospital. He was trying to get on to the island on Monday evening when he found himself trapped in the middle of the bridge.

After the crowd collapsed on itself, he passed out in a crush of arms and legs, and woke up in hospital.

He said the government has to ensure this never happens again. "As far as I am concerned the authorities should demolish that bridge. It was built only recently but has already killed so many people, so we should not keep it."

Serious lack of crowd control

The government's interim report says panic ensued after the bridge began to sway.

However, the fact that up to 8,000 people were crammed on to a bridge 100 meters long and five meters wide indicates a serious lack of crowd control, for which the government and the developer of Diamond Island have blamed each other.

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema promised the city will ensure better measures are in place next year. "It is a very big lesson for me, for my authority. We will organize the big Water Festival in a way that secures the people's safety because it is a very big festival for Cambodia."

The government's final report into the tragedy is due out next week.

Author: Robert Carmichael
Editor: Anne Thomas

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