DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The fan zone set up in central Doha turned into a chaotic scene on Sunday on the opening day of the World Cup as tens of thousands of fans pushed and shoved against police lines to enter the venue.
Fans were trying to enter the enclosed area that contains a big-screen television for viewing matches, places to buy beer, and little else.
Riot police armed with batons and shields stood guard at the entrance. Some fans pleaded with officers to let them through the line.
“It’s very risky. People they could die,” said Hatem El-Berarri, an Iraqi who said he was working in neighboring Dubai. “Old people, women, they cannot handle crowds like this. Thank God I’m a little bit tall, so I can breathe. But I saw some kids and said ‘get them up. They cannot breathe.’”
He said he saw people pushing and shoving, and women crying.
“My family is inside. I cannot enter to see them anymore. I don’t know what to do," he said, calling the organization “not very good.”
Luis Reyes, a Mexican-American living in Los Angeles, likened the crush to scenes a few weeks ago in South Korea that killed more than 150.
“You can’t go back and you can’t go forward,” he said. "I told my son, ’Let’s go outside. It’s too dangerous.”
It wasn’t clear if anyone was injured or arrested.
There was a similar situation Saturday night at a pre-World Cup concert as people tried to push their way inside the same fan zone.
Inside the festival area on Sunday there were no signs of trouble as tens of thousands of people watched the opening match. People were dancing, singing and drinking at a concert following the match between Qatar and Ecuador, which was played in the city of Al Khor.
Mahdi Hussain, a 17-year-old who did not manage to enter, said he was not happy that beer was being served.
“That bothers me,” he said. “I don’t want to be in an atmosphere where there is alcohol.”
Samira Said, who moved to Qatar from Egypt about 25 years ago, said she was overjoyed that an Arab country got to host the World Cup.
“As an Arab, I felt honored. I was happy,” the 50-year-old said.
Associated Press writer Mariam Fam contributed to this report.
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Isabel Debre And Stephen Wade, The Associated Press