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Prosecutors launch probe into 19 Love Parade deaths

DUISBURG, Germany (Reuters) - German prosecutors opened an investigation on Sunday into a stampede which killed 19 people and injured 342 at the Love Parade techno music festival in the western city of Duisburg.

“The Duisburg prosecutors office is investigating negligent homicide,” prosecutor Rolf Haferkamp told Reuters by telephone. “The investigation is aimed at persons unknown.”

Six foreigners, from Spain, Bosnia, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy and China, died in the stampede on Saturday when hordes of young people were pushing through a tunnel into the techno festival grounds at a former freight rail yard.

Authorities were not able to explain on Sunday how the tragedy happened -- near a tunnel that led to a ramp into the festival grounds. Most of the victims -- all between the ages of 20 and 40 -- were found dead on the ramp and none in the tunnel, authorities said.

“The question ‘Why this happened?’ must be answered,” Duisburg Mayor Adolf Sauerland said at a news conference. “But there should be no rush to judgment.”

The tragedy has shocked a country which is normally well organized about crowd events.

“There must be a very intense examination of how this happened,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement issued from the Bavarian city of Bayreuth.

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“We must do everything to prevent this from happening again,” she added.

Love Parade organizer Rainer Schaller said there would be no more Love Parade festivals.

“The Love Parade was always a peaceful and joyous party that will now forever be overshadowed by yesterday’s tragic events,” he said. “Out of respect for the victims, families and friends, we will discontinue the event. The Love Parade is no more.”

CAUSE UNCLEAR

Police originally said overcrowding sparked the stampede.

The leader of Germany’s police union, Rainer Wendt, said the city of Duisburg was the wrong place for such a large event, which originated in Berlin in 1989.

Slideshow ( 21 images )

“Duisburg was a completely inappropriate location for such an event like this,” he told Reuters.

Duisburg police chief Detlef von Schmeling said, however, police had set up screening points to control the flow of people and said there was room to move when the tragedy happened.

“I cannot confirm that there was such massive pressure in the tunnel or at the venue that it had to come to this accident,” he said.

Slideshow ( 21 images )

Von Schmeling said he did not consider the crush to have been caused by mass panic, but said the final judgment would come from prosecutors after they completed their investigation.

Prosecutors said that they would examine the security plan of Organizers and the city of Duisburg.

To prevent a further panic on Saturday, the Love Parade continued for hours after the tragedy. Music blared and people danced on, unaware of the tragedy. Organizers finally called the event off in late evening hours after the deaths.

Police said the free festival, one of Europe’s biggest electronic music events, drew about 1.4 million people. But later they said they got that number from Organizers and could not independently confirm it.

Writing by Brian Rohan and Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Myra MacDonald

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