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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 07:59 GMT
Stranded pilgrims fly out of Dhaka
Pilgrims milling about the Hajji Camp in Dhaka
Dhaka says private airlines will not carry pilgrims again
A Bangladeshi private airline has started to fly hundreds of stranded pilgrims from Dhaka to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia after the government finally allowed it to operate passenger flights.

The airline had been denied permission to operate Hajj flights for failing to complete necessary paperwork and breaching regulations.

Bangladeshi authorities accused Air Bangladesh of cheating thousands of pilgrims and ordered a thorough investigation into the whole episode.

Junior Civil Aviation Minister Mir Nasiruddin
The government was forced to act
Nearly 9,000 pilgrims had booked their flights with the airline to perform Hajj in Mecca later this month.

The first Hajj flight by Air Bangladesh finally left Dhaka's Zia international airport on Wednesday morning, nine days after it was scheduled to take off.

It carried 320 pilgrims, who had had to spend 10 days at a camp near the airport after their flight was postponed.

The government says they allowed Air Bangladesh to operate flights after it produced all the necessary documents.

Earlier, the airline was denied permission on the ground that it had not obtained landing rights from the Saudi civil aviation authority.

The government had also warned they would take legal action against the airline and freeze its assets for breaching rules.

Lesson learned

State Minister for Civil Aviation Mir Nasiruddin now says the government will take no legal action against Air Bangladesh, as it had complied with all the civil aviation rules.

Mr Nasiruddin said Air Bangladesh had also deposited $700,000 with Saudi authorities to guarantee the pilgrims' safe repatriation after the Hajj.

A spokesman for Air Bangladesh said they would operate 18 flights over the next 10 days and carry the remaining pilgrims to Jeddah on time.

Intending pilgrims at the airport
Some can finally begin the journey
This year the government in Bangladesh has for the first time allowed private airlines to organise Hajj flights to Jeddah.

Every year nearly 50,000 Bangladeshis go to Mecca for the pilgrimage

This year Bangladesh's national carrier Biman Bangladesh airlines is carrying more than 30,000 pilgrims.

Thousands of others have booked their flights with other airlines including Air Bangladesh.

The latter planned to hire two Tri-Star aircraft from Jordan to carry the pilgrims, but so far they have only got one airliner.

The government admits that the decision to allow private operators to transport pilgrims was wrong, as many of these operators lack the necessary experience.

Mr Nasiruddin said in future no private operator will be allowed to organise flights for pilgrims.

See also:

05 Feb 02 | South Asia
Bangladesh tackles pilgrimage fraud
03 Feb 02 | South Asia
Bangladesh to rescue stranded pilgrims
07 Mar 01 | Middle East
Hajj winds down
06 Mar 01 | Middle East
Lessons from Hajj deaths
05 Mar 01 | Middle East
Hajj perils, ancient and modern
05 Mar 01 | Middle East
Pilgrims killed in Mecca stampede
05 Mar 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Death at the Hajj
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