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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 18:07 GMT
Millions attend Muslim festival in Bangladesh
Thousands of pilgrims crowd a train passing through Tongi
Devotees endured hardships to reach the venue
By the BBC's Alastair Lawson in Dhaka

Millions of Muslims from Bangladesh and the rest of the world have taken part in the last day of a congregation near Dhaka.

The event was attended by Bangladesh's prime minister, president and the opposition leader.

The congregation or Ijtema is the second largest gathering of Muslims after the Haj festival in Saudi Arabia.

Organisers say that the event, which is held annually, was a resounding success this year and was attended by about four million people.

Final day

The streets of Dhaka were deserted on Monday, because so many people were attending the festival.

An army soldier guides devotees
Soldiers were deployed to maintain order

The route from the city to the venue was lined with policemen.

Those arriving did so in overloaded buses.

They joined huge numbers of worshippers already at the site of the congregation in the town of Tongi near Dhaka.

Thousands of Muslims from at least 70 different countries were also there.

Objective 'achieved'

Prayers and sermons by Islamic scholars were the highlight of the last day of the festival, which organisers insisted was a religious rather than a political event.

It seems as if they were successful in achieving this objective, despite the best efforts of the Bangladeshi media to expose anything controversial that may have been said in relation to the war in Afghanistan.

There were also concerns expressed about standards of hygiene and safety at the site.

There were few reports of diarrhoea outbreaks but no fires in any of the large communal kitchens that were set up to cater for people who camped at the site.

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