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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 December 2006, 17:34 GMT
Muslims begin the Hajj pilgrimage
Thousands of Muslim pilgrims surround the Kaaba in Mecca
New security measures are in place for the Hajj
Up to three million Muslims are taking part in the Hajj pilgrimage rituals in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, amid enhanced security.

The authorities say they have implemented new safety measures to prevent stampedes that have killed hundreds of people previously.

In January, almost 400 people were killed and some 300 injured in a stampede during one of the rituals.

The Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is due to end on Monday.

It is an obligation for all Muslims to undertake the pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime, if they are physically and financially able.

Journeying to Mina

As the sun came up on Thursday morning, pilgrims from more than 70 countries made the short journey from Mecca to the tented city of Mina 5km (three miles) away east by foot, car and bus, says the BBC's Rabiyah Parekh in Mecca.

Pilgrims are dressed in white and utter the words "Here I am at thy service, oh Lord".

Mina will be their home over the next five days, from which they will perform the rituals of Hajj, marking the re-enactment of the trials of Abraham.

2006: 345 die in a crush during a stone-throwing ritual
2004: 251 trampled to death in stampede
2003: 14 are crushed to death
2001: 35 die in stampede
1998: At least 118 trampled to death
1997: 343 pilgrims die and 1,500 injured in fire
1994: 270 killed in stampede
1990: 1,426 pilgrims killed in tunnel leading to holy sites
1987: 400 die as Saudi authorities confront pro-Iranian demonstration

Before the pilgrims leave Mecca, and when they complete the Hajj, they must walk seven times round the Kaaba (a cube-like building in the centre of the city's Great Mosque) in an anti-clockwise direction.

The Saudi authorities are imposing a strict quota system to try to keep the number of foreign visitors to a manageable level.

At the last Hajj, earlier this year, at least 345 pilgrims died in a crush during the stone-throwing ritual of the pilgrimage.

The stampede took place at the foot of the bridge of Jamarat, in Mina, where pilgrims hurl stones at three pillars representing the spot where the devil is said to have appeared to Abraham, and which creates a dangerous bottleneck.

Since then a major rebuilding project has been undertaken and 50,000 security personnel have been mobilised.

The ritual has seen many lethal stampedes, but the number of dead in January was the highest in 16 years.

Muslims journey from Mecca to the tented city of Mina

Hundreds killed in Hajj stampede
12 Jan 06 |  Middle East
New bridge planned at Hajj site
17 Jan 06 |  Middle East

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