Fans Invade Field of World Cup Match, then Riot in Streets

Enraged soccer fans burn cars, destroy monuments after stopping World Cup qualifying match


BAMAKO, Mali (AP) - Enraged soccer fans set cars ablaze, looted shops and destroyed monuments early Monday, hours after they invaded the field and forced a premature end to an African World Cup qualifying match between Mali and Togo.

Local fans were upset after Togo scored what appeared to be the game-winning goal in injury time, giving the visitors a 2-1 lead. The African Soccer Confederation said later Monday that Togo won the match, but FIFA, which could not be reached for comment, has the final say.

"There are many people injured, and many arrests have been made," Interior Minister Colonel Sadio Gassama told The Associated Press.

Gassama said dozens of people suffered minor injuries, including some police officers. Some were treated at the stadium, and most at the hospital, but all were released by Monday afternoon.

Also, the multistory building housing the local Olympic committee was burned down, committee director Habib Sissoko said.

"I have many fears for Togo-Mali relations," Sissoko said.

Togo provides landlocked Mali with its sole access to the sea through its main port and capital, Lome. The two countries are divided by Burkina Faso.

The fans at the sold-out 70,000-seat March 26 Stadium erupted late Sunday when Cherif-Toure Mamam scored the injury-time goal. Soumaila Coulibaly had given Mali the lead in the 12th minute, but Salifou Mustapha equalized for Togo in the 35th.

With the loss, Mali was mathematically eliminated from reaching the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany. Togo, with 13 points from six matches in Group 1, is tied at the top of the group with Senegal and Zambia.

Police fired tear gas as dozens invaded the field after the last goal, and state television immediately cut its live transmission.

Fans then joined residents to riot in 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!"

Prime Minister Ousmane Issoufe Maiga indicated the players would pay for the costly loss, saying "all the consequences of the players' acts will backfire." He did not elaborate.

Government ministers berated the Mali players, who looked down silently in humiliation, during a state television broadcast on Monday night.

Government spokesman Ousmane Thiam told them they were "a disappointment" and "did not perform to expectations" after the government had spent African francs 380 million (US$775,500, euro601,100) on their transport and lodging.

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.

Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Maiga went on national radio to congratulate Togo for its victory, and said his government would work to repair the damage caused by its nation's "unsporting behavior."

Protesters blocked African Unity Avenue with flaming tires, cutting off western Bamako, the so-called Left Bank, 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 the Mali Football Federation offices.

Groups of rioters also confronted citizens, stealing cellular telephones and money. One journalist had his camera 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.