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Dozens die from church riot in Liberia




A riot at a church service has killed at least 29 people, including 11 children, in the West African nation of Liberia after reports that armed gang members were robbing worshipers caused panic, according to witnesses.

The deadly clash took place Wednesday night as people were leaving a resurrection service known as a crusade organized by a popular Pentecostal church on a school football field in New Kru Town, a slum in Monrovia, the Liberian capital.

As word spread that people were being robbed on the way out, church members, the World of Life Outreach Mission International, tried to get out through a narrow gate into a fence surrounding the football field, eyewitnesses said.

People were running back to the fence for fear for their lives, Emmanuel Gray, a New Kru Town resident, told Liberian radio station OK FM. Many of them started falling and then people started walking on them.

He and other youths pulled the bodies of 17 people from the crash and took them to a hospital, he said.

Another fan told the same radio station that panic had spread when gangsters known locally as birds arrived and started robbing people with knives.

People hear that birds take things from people after the crusade, said the worshiper, James Toe.

A police spokesman said investigations were ongoing and that a person had been arrested with a knife. Liberia’s President George Weah, who said in a statement that he was devastated by the deaths, declared three days of mourning.

The pastor who led the service, Abraham Kromah, said in a statement that he was deeply saddened by the deaths.

He is being questioned as part of a police investigation, according to Moses Carter, a Liberian National Police spokesman.

We will ensure that all those responsible for what happened face the full weight of the law, Mr Carter said in a statement.

Some organizations highlighted the role of gang members in the unrest as a serious threat to Liberia.

The Liberian Youth Federation, a powerful group in a nation where over 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25, said it was a sign of the national security emergency the nation faces from its youth population.

And the representative of the United Nations Development Program in Liberia said he stressed the plight of unemployed youth in Liberia and the threat of drug abuse in the country.

Liberia is still facing the consequences of two civil wars that cost hundreds of thousands of lives and forced many children to become child soldiers. It also has high unemployment rates and, although rich in natural resources, is one of the poorest countries in the world.




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