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Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 17:21 GMT
Hajj winds down
Protecting his wife during the stoning ceremony
The Saudi authorities have urged pilgrims to be more careful
The annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia is coming to a close with a final day of rituals.

The symbolic stoning of three pillars representing the devil at Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, has so far passed off without incident following Monday's stampede there.

The authorities say about 40 people are now known to have died as they were crushed or trampled in the stampede.

Performing the ritual of the stoning of the devil
Many died in the stampede to the 'stoning of the devil'

Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said the identities of the victims would be published later.

Officials say about 1.8 million people from 160 countries have performed the Hajj this year.

The majority were to complete their pilgrimage by dusk on Wednesday, with a few postponing their departure until Thursday morning.

Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it is required to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.

Winding down

Rain on Wednesday enlivened the ceremonies in soaring temperatures of 37 degrees Celsius.

Using helicopters, police officers and hundreds of cameras, the Saudi authorities attempted to control the flow of people to the stoning of the devil ritual.

Boy being carried by his father near Mount Arafat
The authorities stepped up safety precautions

After this, the pilgrims were returning to the Grand Mosque in Mecca to circle the holy cubic structure seven times.

There they pray - one prayer there is said to equal 100,000 prayers made elsewhere.

The pilgrims beg mercy for their sins and ask God to accept their pilgrimage.

"I thank God that I have been able to carry out the hajj this year, even though I am said for those who died," said Mohammad Anwar, an Egyptian.

'Lack of organisation'

Prince Nayef has blamed "lack of organisation" for Monday's deaths.

He said that both the Saudi authorities and foreign groups in charge of organising pilgrims bore responsibility.

But he has also blamed the pilgrims themselves and urged them to show tolerance towards each other when performing rituals.

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

And the Civil Defence Chief, Saad bin Abdullah al-Tuwajiri, said the death toll would have been much higher had it not been for the swift intervention of the Saudi security forces".

Monday's deaths were 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 on the third and last day of the stoning ceremony.

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.

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See also:

06 Mar 01 | Middle East
Lessons from Hajj deaths
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Hajj perils, ancient and modern
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What is the Hajj?
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