Saudi council urges more space at hajj stampede site

AFP , Monday 11 Jan 2016

File Photo: Muslim annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia (AP)

Saudi Arabia's Shura Council recommended Monday an expansion of roads leading to the site of a ritual in the annual hajj pilgrimage where more than 2,000 pilgrims died in a stampede last year.

Muslim pilgrims blamed the stampede on police road closures and poor management of the flow of hundreds of thousands of people, who found escape routes blocked when the crush occurred.

The tragedy happened as they made their way in searing temperatures to the Jamarat, the place where pilgrims ritually stone the devil in the Mina tent city in western Saudi Arabia.

Saudi officials blamed pilgrims themselves for not following rules.

The Shura Council, which advises the cabinet, said the hajj ministry and other agencies should study the flow of transportation between Mina and other holy sites including nearby Mecca, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

It should also look at "raising the capacity of roads leading to the Jamarat facility, and to the accommodation areas in Mina," SPA said, without elaborating.

The study should further consider "increasing the area allotted for each pilgrim from the current size and promoting the efficiency of services, and means of security and safety," SPA added.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the interior minister who also chairs the hajj committee, ordered a probe immediately after the September 24 disaster but there has still been no word on its findings.

According to data from foreign officials, at least 2,297 pilgrims died in the stampede, which was the worst ever disaster to strike the annual ritual.

Saudi Arabia issued a death toll of 769 two days after the incident but has given no further tally or details of the casualties.

The kingdom's handling of the hajj and its response to the disaster provoked foreign criticism, particularly from regional rival Iran, which reported the largest number of dead, at 464.

The hajj and lesser umrah pilgrimages bring millions of Muslims from around the world to Saudi Arabia every year.

Days before the start of last year's hajj at least 109 people, including foreign pilgrims, died when a construction crane collapsed on Mecca's Grand Mosque.

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