Hajj stampede toll rises

Seven pilgrims injured in a stampede to throw stones at pillars representing Satan near Makka have died, raising the toll to 251 killed during the pilgrimage.

    Thousands lined up to perform the final rite at Mina

    Health ministry spokesman Khalid al-Marghalani said on Monday they had received their injuries in Sunday's stampede when 244 pilgrims were trampled or suffocated to death at Mina while performing the last rite of the annual pilgrimage.

    Hours earlier, Saudi King Fahd ordered the holy places of Makka and Medina to be modernised.  

    Ministers and senior government officials will "gradually put forward proposals" for the 20-year project, reported the officials Saudi Press Agency (SPA). It could call on expertise from abroad as well as within the kingdom.

    On Monday, more pilgrims massed to repeat the "stoning Satan" ritual, despite the deaths. Before dawn, a vanguard of the faithful were already pouring on to the esplanade, where three stone pillars represent the devil.

    Hundreds of police were standing by watching the pilgrims. A tide of white-robed Muslims had gathered around the site by mid-morning as helicopters monitored the flow.

    There were no traces left of the tragedy that struck on Sunday morning, injuring as many as it killed in a 27-minute stampede. Half of the 244 dead were Asians, said the interior ministry.

    Security increased
     
    The second day threatened to be a further high-risk exercise for the Saudi authorities, who had nonetheless announced last month an "integrated crowd control strategy" to prevent further tragedies.

    Saudi rescue workers rushed to
    the scene to evacuate bodies 

    Last year 14 pilgrims were killed in a stampede during the first day of the same ritual and 35 in 2001, while the 1998 hajj saw 118 killed and more than 180 hurt at the pillars.

    In accordance with Islam, Satan appeared on the same site to the Prophet Abraham, his son Ismail and wife Hagar, who each threw seven stones at the devil.   
     
    The worst toll of the pilgrimage was in July 1990, when 1426 pilgrims were trampled or asphyxiated to death in a tunnel in Mina. Other deaths have been caused by fires in the pilgrims' camps.
      
    The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam along with faith, prayer, charity and the annual Ramadan fast. It climaxed on Saturday on the Arafat plain where pilgrims prayed for forgiveness, after which they spent the night in the town of Muzdalifa, where they collected stones and then headed to Mina.

    After the stoning rituals, pilgrims must return to walk seven times round the black-clothed Kaaba at the heart of the Grand Mosque in Makka for the final act of the hajj before departing.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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