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The BBC's Fergus Nicoll
"Several billion dollars have been spent in the past decade on improving Hajj facilities"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 11:42 GMT
Lessons from Hajj deaths
Thousands of fireproof tents have been set up
Saudi Arabia's interior minister has blamed "lack of organisation" for the deaths of 35 Muslims in a stampede at the annual Hajj pilgrimage on Monday, according to the French news agency AFP.

Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said that both the Saudi authorities and foreign groups in charge of organising pilgrims bore responsibility.

Tens of thousands of pilgrims join the next leg of the Hajj
The Saudi authorities put security measures in place after previous disasters
But he also blamed the pilgrims themselves and urged them to show tolerance towards each other when performing rituals.

And he said he hoped to prevent such incidents in the future by providing better information for pilgrims before their arrival in the country.

Twenty-three women and 12 men died during the Stoning of Satan ritual, near the holy city of Mecca.

The ritual continued on Tuesday. The authorities were said to be expecting the proceedings to run smoothly.

The pilgrims died as a huge crowd rushed towards one of the three giant pillars representing the devil in the Mina valley, near the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad.

It is the latest in a series of disasters to strike the pilgrimage: In 1998, at least 118 people died and more than 180 were injured in a stampede during the third and last day of the stoning ceremony.

'Heavy congestion'

Tens of thousands of pilgrims from 160 countries took part in the ritual, which marks the first day of the Islamic feast of Al-Adha (sacrifice).

Hajj disasters
1998: At least 118 trampled to death
1997: 343 pilgrims die and 1,500 injured in fire
1994: 270 killed in a stampede as worshippers surged forwards during the Stoning the Devil.
1990: 1,426 pilgrims killed in overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites
1987: 400 die in Iranian-Saudi confrontation
Since the last disaster, the Saudi authorities have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on safety precautions.

They have constructed tens of thousands of fireproof tents and introduced ways of staggering the flow of pilgrims through certain congested areas.


This year nearly two 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.

As part of measures to avoid a crush, elderly pilgrims had a head start Sunday night on the stoning ritual.

Earlier on Sunday, some 1.8 million faithful had climbed Mount Arafat - the site of Muhammad's last sermon 14 centuries ago - to pray for forgiveness.

Like Muslims around the world, the pilgrims also slaughter sheep, goats, camels and cattle for the start of the feast of Al-Adha to mark Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for God.

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