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Deadly Stampede Mars African Film Festival

A deadly stampede has marred the start of the African Fespaco biennial film festival in Burkina Faso. Two young girls died in the melee, and 17 people were injured, several seriously.

When gates opened for a free nighttime opening ceremony Saturday in Ouagadougou, thousands of people rushed to shaded areas of August Fourth Stadium, causing a stampede.

The head of the festival's medical unit, Francis Liou, says it is the first time in the festival's 40-year history there have been such deaths.

"I am sorry for this evenement [event]," he said. "It is the first time I see the problem of public who has really wanted to attend."

Other festival organizers blamed the heat and long waits to get into the stadium.

Festival spokesman Lamoussa Yaro expressed his condolences.

He said the eight-day Fespaco, in its 19th edition, has become a professional and popular event.

Some in the stadium said there were just a handful of emergency personnel and only two ambulances.

Sunday, African filmmakers showed their unity by marching from the Fespaco grounds to the Square of the Filmmakers in Ouagadougou, where a monument of intertwined film reels stands 15-meters tall.

The official competition for the top award, the Stallion of Yennenga, began with the screening of some of the 20 feature-length works competing. The films cover some of the biggest challenges in Africa, including recovering from genocide, civil war and AIDS.

There is also lighter fare. Hometown favorite movie, Ouaga Saga, shows how youths cope with difficulties through music. Hollywood actor Danny Glover is a member of the jury.