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Saturday, 3 March, 2001, 12:43 GMT
Hajj pilgrims take to the road
Africa Muslims
Pilgrims line up to board a bus to Mina valley
Hundreds of thousands of Muslims performing the Hajj are heading out of the holy city of Mecca to the plains of Mina for the next stage of the annual pilgrimage.

Hajj pilgrims on top of bus
Some brave the heat and sit on the roof
In temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit), they are travelling the 12km (eight miles) by bus, car or on foot.

They will spend the night at Mina, before ascending Mount Arafat on Sunday.

Among the hajjis is this year's youngest pilgrim, a newborn Egyptian girl, whose mother went into labour on Friday.

Aisha, named after the Prophet Mohammed's favourite wife, will travel by ambulance with her mother to Mount Arafat.

Security

Police helicopters monitored the crowds leaving Mecca, and emergency services were on hand to deal with any incidents.

Doughnut stand, Mecca
Pilgrims fortify themselves after dawn prayers
The large crowds have led to several stampedes in recent years, which have left hundreds of pilgrims dead.

So far, there have been no security problems this year, although officials said that 53 elderly Indian pilgrims had died from natural causes.

The Saudi authorities are providing 10 million free bottles of water and one million free meals over the next two days.

A tent city has been built at the foot of Mount Arafat, where pilgrims will rest and pray, before ascending the mountain to pray for forgiveness.

On Monday, the al-Adha feast begins, and the pilgrims will throw stones at pillars that symbolise the devil.

This year around 2.5 million pilgrims are performing the Hajj, somewhat fewer than last year.

Performing the Hajj at least once in a lifetime is one of the five "pillars", or duties, of Islam.

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See also:

28 Feb 01 | Middle East
Pilgrims gather for Hajj
23 Jan 01 | Middle East
Hajj pilgrims barred in Ebola scare
10 Feb 00 | Middle East
What is the Hajj?
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