Two killed in stampede before papal event

Sat Mar 21, 2009 6:47pm EDT
 
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LUANDA (Reuters) - Two people were killed and at least eight injured Saturday in a stampede to enter a stadium in downtown Luanda where Pope Benedict later presided at a youth rally, a hospital official said. Maria das Dores Celina, a nurse at Josina Machel Hospital in downtown Luanda, told Reuters the incident happened as thousands of people rushed to enter the venue about four and a half hours before the Pope arrived. The victims, two girls in her teens, arrived dead at the hospital, she added.

"Their bodies were bruised. They were probably trampled as they rushed inside the stadium," she said.

One of the eight injured, a 27-year old girl, lost her breath in the crush and collapsed shortly after entering the stadium. Police officials said over 30,000 people, including mothers with babies, attended the rally in sweltering heat.

"There were just too many people inside the stadium and the temperatures were too high," said Conceicao Cassange, 27, as she lay in a hospital bed. "I think tomorrow things could be worse."

Sunday, the Pope will perform an open-air mass for half a million people. He is in Angola on the second and last leg of a tour of Africa, his first visit to the continent since taking over as pontiff. He will return to Rome Monday morning.

Over 60 percent of Angolans are believed to be Catholic -- a religion introduced by Portuguese missionaries 500 years ago.

(Reporting by Henrique Almeida, additional reporting by Philip Pullella, Editing by Jonathan Wright)