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.
Only a trickle of pregnant women and handicapped fans were allowed to enter the fan zone through a special priority entrance shortly after the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador kicked off in another Qatari city, Al Khor.
“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.
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.
The deployment of riot police comes after a similar incident Saturday night at a pre-World Cup concert saw people try to push their way inside of the fan zone on Doha’s Corniche at Al Bidda Park.
Follow Isabel DeBre on Twitter at www.twitter.com/isabeldebre.