Wednesday, August 26, 1998 Published at 00:56 GMT 01:56 UK
World: Middle East
Saudi Arabia imposes pilgrimage limit
Pilgrims in Mecca wearing their ritual white robes
By Gulf Correspondent Frank Gardner
For hundreds of thousands of Saudi pilgrims, the next Hajj pilgrimage in March will be their last until the year 2004.
Under a new government regulation, approved by the country's religious authorities, all residents of Saudi Arabia will now be limited to one Hajj pilgrimage every five years.
Pilgrims coming from abroad are already limited to a quota system, based on the total Muslim population in their country.
But a succession of recent Hajj tragedies, coupled with growing numbers of pilgrims from abroad, has clearly convinced the authorities that more drastic measures needed to be taken.
Despite elaborate safety measures, 119 pilgrims were killed when a crowd broke into a stampede.
Saudi-based journalists predict that the new limit is bound to be unpopular with some Saudis, who view unrestricted access to the Hajj as their religious right.
But the announcement made no mention of limiting citizens from performing the Umrah, a minor version of the Hajj which can be made at any time during the year.
And, if it helps make the Hajj a safer undertaking, journalists believe the move will be broadly welcomed by most citizens.