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Players Visit Injured Fans

Reggie the alligator captured Thursday May 24, 2007 at Harbor Regional Park's Lake Machado in Los Angeles, is released into the Los Angeles Zoo.
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Some of South Africa's top soccer players brought food, a choir and their good wishes Friday to hospitals holding some of the fans injured in the soccer stampede that killed 43 people earlier this week.

The Orlando Pirates players brought meat pies, fruit and pastries to patients treated in Johannesburg Hospital. As their team choir sang in the background, they moved from bed to bed saying prayers and exchanging hugs with victims of Wednesday night's disaster.

Despite painful injuries and lost loved ones, the victims smiled broadly when the players walked in. Many burst into tears when the choir began singing.

Pirates owner Irvin Khoza said he wanted to recreate the experience of being home for those who have to stay in the hospital over Easter.

"It is important for them to know that they are not alone in this time of tragedy," he said.

The Kaizer Chiefs players also visited many of those who were wounded when thousands of fans locked outside the Chiefs-Pirates match stampeded through the fence at Ellis Park Stadium, crushing scores of people.

Authorities announced plans Friday to hold a public memorial ceremony Sunday at Ellis Park. Stadium officials expected 30,000 people at the service. President Thabo Mbeki and players from the Chiefs and Pirates said they would also attend.

In addition to the 43 people killed in the attack, 160 people were injured, and 89 of them were hospitalized.

Grieving the loss of his cousin, and unable to walk, George Musi, 26, lit up when Chief's captain Doctor Khumalo approached his bedside.

"It makes me feel very good that they came," Musi said.

Musi traveled to the match with his cousin and his best friend from Pietersburg, 170 miles away. They were on the second level of the stadium when the stampede started. Musi's cousin was just a few feet away when he was killed, but the throng was so thick, Musi never saw it happen.

Musi's leg was crushed, and he suffered nerve damage.

Despite the tragedy, Musi, who blamed the stampede on overcrowding, lack of proper security, and excessive ticket sales, said he loved the Chiefs and would go to future games as soon as he was better.

Minutes after the Chiefs left to visit another hospital, the Pirates arrived.

Many of the victims were moved to tears as the Pirates choir sang and prayers were offered in Zulu, Tswana, and English.

When one victim told the players he was worried about his medical bills, team spokeswoman Zodwa Khoza told him: "As much as you were there for us, we are here for you."

The two teams, South Africa's Premier Soccer League and the South African Football Association have opened a crisis center for the victims and their families and they will pay for the entire cost of medical treatment for those injured. They also pledged 15,000 rands ($2,000) to each family of the deceased to pay funeral costs.

"It is important that the fans know we are behind them," Pirates captain Thabo Mngomeni said.

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