Stampede kills 37 people in army recruitment drive in Congo-Brazzaville

Thirty-seven people have died in an overnight stampede during an army recruitment drive in a stadium in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, authorities said on Tuesday.

Last week, the army in the central African nation also known as Congo-Brazzaville announced it was recruiting 1,500 people aged between 18 and 25.

Prime Minister Anatole Collinet Makosso, who said 37 people had been killed in the “tragedy”, announced that an unspecified number of other people were also injured.

“A crisis unit has been set up under the authority of the prime minister,” a statement added. Other details about the incident are still hazy.

Potential recruits had been directed to go to the Michel d’Ornano Stadium in the heart of Brazzaville.

According to local residents, many people were still in the stadium on Monday night when the stampede began. Some people had tried to force their way through gates, with many being trampled in the scramble, residents said.

Unemployment is rampant in the country of 5.8 million people, where according to the World Bank, “75 percent of the Congolese workforce are employed in the informal sector, either self-employed or in low-productivity jobs”.

A late night stampede at a military stadium in Republic of Congo where large crowds of young people waited hours to register at a recruitment event left 31 people dead, authorities said Tuesday.

The Congolese Armed Forces Command announced that all recruitment operations were suspended in the capital, Brazzaville, until further notice following the tragedy late Monday.

Adelard Yvon Bonga, director of Brazzaville’s main morgue, told official broadcaster Radio Congo that the death toll stood at 31. The prime minister’s office put the figure at 37 earlier in the day, but six of the deaths turned out to have occurred somewhere else, Bonga said.

Brandon Tsetou, a young graduate who escaped the crush that caused some victims to suffocate, said he joined the line in front of Ornado stadium on Monday morning.

“According to the organizers, it was the last day. That’s why many of us decided to wait until late into the night, hoping to register,” he told The Associated Press. “Some were so impatient that they had to force their way in, causing a stampede that left a number of people dead or injured, which we deplore.”

Long lines formed daily outside military recruitment centers over the past week as young people ages 18 to 25 sought to join the army, one of the few institutions offering work in Republic of Congo. As many as 700 people a day registered, though there were only a total of 1,500 spots available.

Among the victims was 23-year-old Chancelvie Oko, according to her uncle Germain Ndzale. Oko wanted to join the military to help her support her two children following her husband’s death in a traffic accident two years ago, Ndzale said.

In Republic of Congo, the youth unemployment rate is about 42%, according to World Bank statistics. Despite being an oil-producing country, poverty is widespread in the nation of 5.61 million people, with only 15% of those living in rural areas having access to electricity.

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