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Saturday, 11 March, 2000, 18:22 GMT
Saudis open huge slaughterhouse
Camels
Camels are brought to the new slaughterhouse
Saudi Arabia has opened what it says is the world's biggest slaughterhouse, in preparation for the Muslim sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of cattle and sheep at the climax of the pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca.

Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz inaugurated the 500,000 square metre complex in the Mina valley, near Mecca.

The Muaissem slaughterhouse cost 470 million rials ($125m) to build.

Its 10,000 workers will be able to slaughter 200,000 animals a day in keeping with Islamic tradition.

Some two million pilgrims will slaughter cattle, sheep and camels in memory of Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son Ishmael, before God spared the boy's life.

The high point of the Hajj this year falls next Wednesday and runs into the feast of the sacrifice, Eid al-Adha, the following day.

Safety measures

Before the Saudi authorities began an intensive abattoir-building programme about a decade ago, pilgrims either slaughtered the beasts themselves or hired butchers to do the deed and the plain ran with blood.


Tents
The Saudi authorities set up fireproof tents after a disastrous fire in 1997
After opening the Muaissem slaughterhouse, Prince Abdullah inspected the 250,000 fireproofed, air conditioned tents in the pilgrims' camp.

The use of fireproof tents began in 1998, a year after 343 pilgrims were killed when a blaze started by a stove swept through a tent camp in Mina.

Since then, old tents, gas stoves and gas canisters have been banned.

On Friday, a senior cleric urged pilgrims to be patient as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims waited to pray at Mecca's Grand Mosque.

Some pilgrims fell to the ground in the crush, reviving fears of a stampede in 1998 which left 180 dead. A similar stampede in 1994 left 270 dead.

But there have been no injuries so far this year.

Aided by surveillance cameras, security personnel, dressed in the traditional Saudi white garb, mingled among the pilgrims to direct the crowds.

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See also:

09 Feb 00 | Middle East
Millions begin Mecca pilgrimage
18 Mar 99 | Middle East
What is the Hajj?
05 Nov 99 | Middle East
British consulate in Mecca
26 Aug 98 | Middle East
Saudi Arabia imposes pilgrimage limit
19 Mar 99 | Middle East
Saudi King pays for pilgrims
10 Apr 98 | Middle East
Hajj stampede victims being identified
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