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Saudi under fire after deadly rajj stampede

MINA, Saudi Arabia Blame shifted towards Saudi authorities on Friday after a stampede at the hajj killed at least 717 people, in the worst tragedy to strike the annual Muslim pilgrimage in a quarter-century.

The disaster, which also left several hundred people injured, was the second deadly accident to hit worshipers this month, after a crane collapse in the holy city of Mecca killed more than 100.

At the scene, bodies lay in piles, surrounded by discarded personal belongings and flattened water bottles, while rescue workers laid corpses in long rows on stretchers, limbs protruding from beneath white sheets.

Dark-skinned and light-skinned, they died with arms draped around each other.

“There was no room to maneuver,” said Aminu Abubakar, a Nigerian pilgrim who escaped the crush of bodies because he was at the head of the procession.

Fellow pilgrims told him of children dying despite parents’ efforts to save them near the sprawling tent city where they stay.

“They threw them on rooftops, mostly tent-tops... Most of them couldn’t make it.”

The stampede broke out in Mina, about five kilometers from Mecca, during the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual. The Saudi civil defense service said it was still counting the dead, who included pilgrims from different countries.

Iran said 131 of its nationals were among the victims, and accused regional rival Saudi Arabia of safety errors.

Islamabad said seven Pakistanis were killed.

Pilgrims at the scene blamed the Saudi authorities and said they were afraid to continue the hajj rituals.

But Abubakar, an AFP reporter based in Kano, Nigeria, said that on Friday morning crowd control had improved and the number of pilgrims was much less.

“Now it’s more organized... There’s more control from the entry points. We don’t expect a repeat of what happened,” he said while moving back to the stoning site on the second of three stoning days.

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