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Mali Soccer Fans Riot After Loss

March 28, 2005

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) _ Enraged Mali soccer fans set cars ablaze and looted shops early Monday, hours after rushing onto the field and forcing the suspension of a World Cup qualifying game against Togo.

``There are many people injured, and many arrests have been made,″ Interior Minister Colonel Sadio Gassama told The Associated Press. No precise numbers were released.

A multistory building housing the local Olympic committee was burned down, committee director Habib Sissoko told the AP.

The fans at the sold-out 70,000-seat stadium were angered Sunday after Togo took a 2-1 lead late in the game. Dozens of fans rushed the field, and police fired tear gas. Officials stopped the game, and state television immediately cut its live transmission. Togo later was awarded the victory, according to the African Soccer Confederation.

Rioting spread to central Bamako, with thousands descending on the capital’s main African Unity Avenue and threatening Mali’s top soccer players.

``Give us Frederic Kanoute and Mamadou Bakayoko,″ they demanded. ``We’re going to kill them!″

Presidential spokesman Seydou Sissouma said all the players were safe under guard.

Mali Prime Minister Ousmane Issoufi Maiga went on national radio Monday to congratulate Togo on its victory, and said his government would work to repair the damage caused by his nation’s ``unsporting behavior.″

Togo scored what appeared to be the winning goal in injury time, giving the visitors a 2-1 lead. Mali was eliminated from World Cup contention with the loss. Mali has become a continental soccer power recently, reaching the semifinals at last year’s African Cup of Nations and advancing to the final as host in 2002.

Protesters blocked African Unity Avenue with flaming tires, cutting off western Bamako from the eastern half of the city. Dozens of cars were burned and used to block other roads.

Police repeatedly fired tear gas as the crowd tried to ransack Mali’s soccer federation offices.

Groups of rioters also confronted citizens, stealing cell phones and money. One journalist’s camera was stolen.

``We haven’t seen anything like this since the March 26 revolution,″ said one woman, referring to the 1991 riots that ended decades of military dictatorship in the West African country of 11 million.

Several monuments were reduced to rubble, including the multistory Africa Tower at Faladie Square, which is where the president receives foreign dignitaries.

Togo provides landlocked Mali with its sole access to the sea through its main port and capital, Lome.

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