At least 60 people have been killed and more than 200 injured in a crush during New Year festivities in Cote d’ Ivoire’s main city, Abidjan, officials said.
The incident occurred in the early hours of Tuesday as people were heading home from a fireworks display at a stadium in the city’s Plateau district.
Most of the dead were believed to be children aged between eight and 15.
Details of what caused the stampede were unclear, but government has pledged to investigate the tragedy.
The death toll is expected to rise.
“I have just seen all those bodies, but I can’t find my son,” mother of a nine-year-old boy said.
“During the fireworks everything was proceeding normally,” Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko, also said.
“At the end of it people wanted to go home, back to their home districts.
“Near the Hotel Tiama and the Houphouet-Boigny Stadium there was a stampede. We were notified of injuries and deaths, and as regards casualties, we learnt that there was a heavy toll. The circumstances surrounding the incident will form the subject of an investigation,” the minister added.
Reports vary as to what caused the crush.
According to some reports, thousands of people were trying to leave the festivities at the same time, as another large crowd was arriving, the BBC’s West Africa correspondent, Thomas Fessy said.
But one of the wounded told Reuters news agency that the arrival of security forces triggered a panic which resulted in a stampede.
“The great mass of people caused a very large stampede which caused 60 deaths, more than 200 people were injured,” Lt. Col. Issa Sako, head of the military rescue effort, told reporters.
“In the stampede, some people were trampled and suffocated by the crowd.”
At least two hospitals in the city have received the wounded, some reportedly with life-threatening injuries.
President Alassane Ouattara has visited some of the wounded in hospital and promised that the costs of their medical treatment will be covered by the government.
The governor of Abidjan, Robert Beugré Mambe, said he had also visited the wounded and the families of those who had lost loved ones.
“We bow our heads respectfully before the memory of all those who died,” he said.
The site of the crush was littered with abandoned clothes and blood stains as light dawned.
The Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium was named after the founding president of Ivory Coast, now named Cote d’Ivoire.
The fireworks event had been organised to celebrate the peace recently re-established after a period of unrest triggered by former President Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to recognise Ouattara’s victory in the 2010 elections.
The night before the tragedy, the stadium hosted a concert by U.S. musician, Chris Brown.