At least eight people have been confirmed dead in a stampede during a church meeting at Olympic Youth Development Centre in Lusaka, Zambia, Monday.
Reports say five of the victims died on the spot and three others succumbed to their injuries on their way to the hospital, according to the Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC).
A police spokesperson say some 35,000 desperate people were trying to get in to the sports arena, where a local charity known as the Lesedi Seven, under the aegis of the Church of Christ, was giving out food parcels.
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“Eight people died while 28 others were injured in a stampede which happened at the Olympic Youth Development Centre around 06:00 today as a crowd jostled to enter the premises.
“The victims are among the 35,000, which the group had invited for prayers,” police said in a statement.
Authorities say the injured are currently receiving treatment at Chingwere and Chipata clinics while the bodies of the deceased have been deposited at the University Hospital UTH Mortuary.
Zambian Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja has ordered the cancellation of the food distribution program until further notice and urged people to return to their homes.
“We have since dispersed the gathering and an inquiry in to the matter has been instituted,’’ a police statement reads.
Reports say hundreds of people, however, have camped outside the venue with the hopes that the organizers will resume the distribution of corn meal, cooking oil, and salt.
Meanwhile, Lesedi Seven Director Liseli Mapeto declined to comment when reached by reporters.
Much of southern Africa has suffered a severe drought since 2015, and food prices in Zambia have risen steeply. According to World Bank figures, 60 percent of Zambians live below the poverty line and 42 percent of the population is considered to be extremely poor.