TOP STORIES At least 17 people found dead in South African...

At least 17 people found dead in South African tavern, officials say

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JOHANNESBURG – At least 17 people, some believed to be teenagers, were found dead early Sunday morning in a tavern in the coastal city of East London, South Africa, police said.

While investigators were still trying to determine what led to the deaths, initial reports suggested the club was overcrowded and that there was a stampede, said Unati Binkos, a spokesman for the Eastern Cape’s Department of Public Safety.

TV news footage shows locals gathering on a dirt road outside the modest building that houses the Enyobeni Tavern, many looking for information about their loved ones. Senior officials from across the province, including the prime minister and the police commissioner, arrived at the scene in Scenery Park, northwest of central East London.

“We really cannot understand what happened here,” Prime Minister Oscar Mabuyane told reporters. “It just can’t be. This shouldn’t happen.”

Brig. Tembinkoshi Kinana, a police spokesman, said the police received a call around 4 a.
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m. about deaths at the tavern.

Mr. Bincos said there was a big party at the tavern on Saturday night with two DJs celebrating their birthdays. The party was also billed as a celebration of South Africa’s move away from the mandatory mask-wearing in public places that has been in place since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Binkos said.

“It drew a huge crowd – more than a tavern can hold,” he said of the party.

According to Mr Binkos, the tavern owners told investigators that the bouncers closed the doors to try to control the size of the crowd. People outside were trying to squeeze in, he said, causing a panic that may have been exacerbated by someone releasing pepper spray.

But Mr. Binkos added that these versions have not yet been confirmed by the police. “There are a lot of stories going around,” he said.

He said the police had seized CCTV footage from the bar.

Brigadier General Keenana said the victims were likely between 18 and 20 years old. By late morning, police had confirmed 17 deaths, but some feared that the toll would rise.

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