02/01/2004, 00.00
saudi arabia
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Pilgrims trampled at hajj stoning ritual

Mecca (AsiaNews/agencies) - An unknown number of pilgrims were trampled to death Sunday during a stoning ritual at the annual hajj, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported.

The deaths were reported by the Saudi Interior Ministry, according to SPA, which provided no further details. Some medics said dozens were killed. But later the Minister confirmed that around 240 had been killed by the stampede.

Last year, 14 pilgrims were trampled to death during the same stoning event. As in previous years, the deaths occurred after a sleepless night of prayers at the climax of the annual hajj, where 2 million Muslim pilgrims had gathered.

Each person throws seven times, chanting "bismillah (in the name of God)" and "Allah akbar (God is great)."

In 2001, 35 people died in a stampede during the devil stoning ritual, while in 1998, some 180 died.

In the worst hajj-related disaster, 1,426 people died in 1990 during a stampede in a tunnel leading to Mecca's Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest shrine.

Yesterday unprecedented security measures protected the pilgrims, who flowed in a sea of humanity across the Plain of Arafat to pray for forgiveness on the Mount of Mercy.In a special midday sermon at Namirah mosque in Arafat, Saudi Arabia's grand mufti, Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh, reminded the faithful of Islam's "merciless opposition to terror and violence" and urged women to remain modest and adhere to Islam's true values."Islam has forbidden violence in all its forms; it has forbidden hijacking airplanes, ships and other means of transport and has forbidden all acts that would undermine security," said the mufti.

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