Overcrowding caused Iranian stadium collapse

Officials on Monday said overcrowding in the stadium was a main cause in the collapse of a grandstand roof during a soccer match, which killed two people and led to riots with police.

As many as 20,000 people were packed into Mottaqi stadium -- which has a capacity of 10,000 -- at the time of Sunday's accident in the northeastern town of Sari, the official news agency said.

Many fans had climbed onto the fibreglass roof to watch the game when it collapsed under their weight.

"They should not have let so many people into the stadium," Mostafa Hashemi-Taba, head of Iran's Physical Education Organization, was quoted as saying by the Islamic Republic News Agency.

After the accident, angry fans clashed with police trying to make their way into the stadium.

Fans swung metal poles at police and set fires on the field, and a wall of the stadium was torn down.

Two people died Monday of injuries from the roof collapse and melee, Asghar Samarbakhsh, deputy sports director for Mazandaran province, told The Associated Press.

There were conflicting reports on the number of injured.

Samarbakhsh said at least 355 people were injured, one of them critically.

Abdollah Madani, head of the Mazandaran Medical Science University, put the number at 290.

Madani told the news agency that both deaths were from head injuries.

A team from the Iranian Soccer Federation arrived in Sari, located 240 kilometres northeast of Tehran, to conduct an investigation ordered by President Mohammad Khatami.

Provincial media reported that police forces opened fire to disperse rioters.

Police would not comment on the reports.

Ahmad Ali Barzegar, the senior doctor on duty at Bu Ali Hospital in Sari, where some of the injured had been rushed, said Monday that several people with bullet wounds had been brought in.

He would not elaborate.

Officials in several hospitals in the city said they had been ordered by authorities not to discuss casualties or allow journalists to visit the wards.

One of the spectators, Mehdi Zamanian, said he heard gunfire and saw at least one person wounded in the foot by a bullet.

"I saw a lot of bloodied heads. In the panic and stampede that followed, I heard gunfire," he said.

Outside the Amir Mazandarini Hospital, the father of one of the dead, Ali Akbar Faraji, 42, along with 25 family members beat their heads and wailed in mourning.

"What a calamity for me and my family to see the death of my beloved son over a soccer match," said the father, who refused to give his name.

Another victim, Abdollah Kiani, 22, died later Monday of his injuries.

The match pitted one of the country's most popular soccer teams, Persepolis, and rival Shemooshak of Nowshahr.