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Sunday, 3 February, 2002, 13:13 GMT
Bangladesh to rescue stranded pilgrims
Congregation
The Haj generates huge excitement in Bangladesh
By the BBC's Alastair Lawson in Dhaka

The Bangladeshi government says that it will intervene to help up to 9,000 stranded Muslim pilgrims hoping to take part in the Haj festival in Saudi Arabia.

Many of the pilgrims booked their seats with a private tour operator, which has so far failed to provide a single flight to Saudi Arabia, even though the first aircraft chartered by the company was scheduled to leave a week ago.

The annual Haj pilgrimage generates huge excitement in Bangladesh, and every year around 30,000 people leave the country by air to Saudi Arabia.

But seats can be hard to come by and expensive.

The private tour operator, Air Bangladesh, had sold thousands of return tickets, but so far not one of its flights has left.

Talks on

Hundreds of people waiting to depart on flights organised by Air Bangladesh and other private tour operators are now living in camps near Dhaka's international airport.

A Muslim pilgrim
Many pilgrims have been waiting for over a week
The Bangladeshi government says it will intervene to help the pilgrims reach Saudi Arabia - but that could be difficult.

All flights on the country's national carrier, Biman, are booked.

So too are most flights on other airlines, which in any case, are a lot more expensive.

The government is currently holding negotiations with representatives from various Gulf-based airlines.

Flights 'soon'

It is thought that aircraft chartered by Air Bangladesh have been delayed for two reasons: it is reported not to have completed the necessary paperwork to land in Saudi Arabia, and one of its planes due to transport the pilgrims was delayed in India.

The Civil Aviation Authority will not allow it to depart unless it can guarantee it has permission to make the return flight from Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, the State Minister for Aviation, Mir Nasiruddin, paid a visit on Saturday to camps where the pilgrims are waiting for their flights.

He told them they should expect to fly within the next couple of days, and that action would be taken against those responsible for the delay.

But many of those waiting remain sceptical.

They say that no representative of Air Bangladesh has visited them to explain why some have been waiting eight days to get a flight.

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