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Page last updated at 15:43 GMT, Friday, 26 February 2010

Deadly crush at Timbuktu mosque

Djinguereber mosque
The Djinguereber mosque is the largest in Timbuktu

Twenty-six people, mostly women and children, have been killed in a crush at the famous Djinguereber mosque in Timbuktu, sources have told the BBC.

The stampede happened during the Mouloud festival to mark the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, when people walk around the mud mosque in northern Mali.

The worshippers had to use a different path than usual because of renovations to the 14th Century building.

Timbuktu, in the Sahara Desert, was once a centre of Islamic learning.

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Initial reports said that 16 people had died but local officials have subsequently told the BBC that a further 10 bodies were recovered at the scene and buried by their families without going to hospital.

According to Muslim tradition, people should be buried with 24 hours of their death.

Local tour guide Halif Mohamed al-Hassan told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that up to 25,000 people converge on the mosque each year and walk around it three times to mark the prophet's birthday.

He says the people were killed after an elderly woman fell down and others were trampled to death.

Some 40 people were injured, the police say, according to Reuters news agency.

"I lost my sister. She was 16 and had gone to pray," said local resident, Ali Kounta, reports the AFP news agency.

The Djinguereber mosque is the largest in Timbuktu.

The once wealthy city helped spread Islam across West Africa.

Its fortunes declined after the 16th Century, as the region's main trade routes switched to the Atlantic Ocean, instead of the Sahara Desert.



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