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Panic grips fans during shooting near Mexico soccer match [Video]

August 22, 2011 | 10:38 am

It wasn't the sort of thing you expect to see during a professional soccer match: a field emptying of players in the middle of play. Within seconds of the first pops of gunfire, frightened fans ducked under their seats for cover, then thousands rushed onto the field, seeking escape, some carrying children.

The Spanish-language video above shows what happened Saturday night during a shootout that erupted outside a game in northern Mexico between the visiting Monarcas of Morelia and the host Santos Laguna in the city of Torreon, Coahuila state. Unlike recent incidents of stadium violence in California, the shootout in Mexico did not leave any dead or seriously injured. But the episode demonstrated the state of perpetual jitters that has come to define daily life for many Mexicans.

As the country's drug cartels battle each other over smuggling routes to the United States and also battle U.S.-backed government security forces, Saturday's shooting shows that Mexicans seem to face the potential threat of gunfire at anytime, anywhere.

This time it happened in Torreon, a city that has suffered a spike of massacres and gun battles since the start of the drug war in 2006. Reports said the gunfire was aimed at a police station outside the stadium, but the shots were loud and close enough to send fans into a panic caught live on television.

Just before the 40-minute mark in the Saturday Santos-Monarcas match, as seen in the video, gunfire is heard echoing through the arena, terrifying players and stands full of Torreon futbol fans.

"This doesn't sound good," the announcer says as players and referees are seen running off the field. "Let's hope this doesn't get out of control."

Torreon stadium shooting Mexico Reuters

The seconds tick, and gunfire continues. After nearly two minutes, without any apparent coordination or announcement, fans who had been ducking behind seats suddenly begin pouring onto the field, heading to a corner of the stadium away from the sound of shooting. Some younger fans are seen hopping and laughing on the turf while others are running with children in their arms. One woman is videotaped weeping.

In this Spanish-language video by El Universal, fans hiding below their seats tell others who are trying to exit, "Don't leave! Don't leave! Get down." People are heard whimpering. Here are photos.

The game between Santos and Monarcas was suspended. Torreon's mayor told reporters his city's police force is under constant attack by suspected drug cartel members, with 17 officers killed so far this year (link in Spanish). The Sinaloa and Zetas cartels are said to be fighting over the Torreon corridor.

President Felipe Calderon took to Twitter to calm Mexicans who were watching the chaos in Torreon live, saying: "The situation is under control." The president's comment sparked numerous retorts by other Twitter users, some asking: "Under control by whom?"

Details on the attack were still murky as of Monday morning. Subsequent reports said bullet holes were discovered inside the venue (link in Spanish).

Overall, Mexico's drug war has left more than 40,000 dead in almost five years, and resulted in unknown numbers of kidnapped, disappeared and internal exiles. The flow of drugs north to the United States has been unhindered despite Calderon's military-led crackdown and his government's arrest or killings of high-profile cartel targets.

Even before the weekend had ended, a song had already been written about the Torreon stadium shooting. See a report in Spanish here, with a video link to the ballad-style corrido that appeared online documenting the event.

"Let's protect the stadiums," the singer wails, "so that our little ones can have a better future."

-- Daniel Hernandez

Video credit: Univision Futbol via Youtube. Photo: Fans duck during the shootout Saturday near the Santos Laguna stadium in Torreon, Mexico. Credit: Reuters