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Last Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006, 14:40 GMT
Saudis turn back Nigeria pilgrims
Pilgrims circulate around the Kaaba at Mecca's Grand Mosque
Huge numbers of pilgrims have already arrived for the Hajj
A plane load of Muslims from northern Nigeria trying to reach this year's Hajj has been turned back in Saudi Arabian air space and sent home.

The 492 pilgrims from Kaduna had missed an extension to Wednesday's deadline secured by Nigeria's president.

Thousands of other Nigerian pilgrims have been stranded as a shortage of aircraft is blamed for the chaos.

Kano's state governor told angry pilgrims to go home and accept "the will of Allah".

Many airlines have refused to take part in this year's pilgrimage to Mecca, saying the fees offered by the Nigerian organising authorities did not cover their costs.

On Wednesday, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered national carrier Virgin Nigeria to divert its flights to help the pilgrims after securing the 36-hour extension, which expired on Friday morning.

Promise

Saudi authorities have said they would fine airlines $50,000 for every plane carrying Hajj pilgrims that arrived after the deadline.

The BBC's Ado Saleh Kankiya at Kano airport says thousands of Muslims from northern Katsina, Bauchi and Jigawa are still hoping that their state authorities - which organise travel on the Hajj - will pay these fines.

But following the return of the plane to Kaduna, people at airports across the country have been told by officials to go home and make the pilgrimage next year instead.

In a long address to angry pilgrims from Kano, Governor Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau asked them to accept the disappointment, our correspondent says.

He promised them that they would be among the first to go to the Hajj next year and said that next year better plans would be put in place.

Every year about 2m Muslims converge on Mecca - the holiest place in Islam - for the Hajj.

Every adult Muslim is supposed to undertake the Hajj at least once in their life if they can afford it and are physically able.


SEE ALSO:
Diary of the Hajj
04 Jan 06 |  Middle East
What is the Hajj?
18 Jan 05 |  Middle East
In pictures: Hajj preparations
03 Jan 06 |  In Pictures


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