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Sunday, 1 December, 2002, 14:21 GMT
Bangladesh rush for gifts kills 30
Body of stampede victim in Gaibandha
The victims had been offered free clothes
At least 26 women and four children have been killed following a stampede in the Bangladeshi town of Gaibandha, 335 kilometres (210 miles) north of Dhaka.

It happened when a wealthy mill owner opened the gates of his house to distribute clothes to the poor ahead of the Muslim Eid-al-Fitr ceremony which marks the end of Ramadan.

When the gates were opened, there was a mass surge forward as a crowd of more than 2,000 people climbed over each other to get the clothes.

"We have counted 30 bodies. Several others have been injured," said police sub-inspector Golam Minhaz.

Many of the injured have been rushed to hospital in a critical condition, according to reports from the United News of Bangladesh.

The authorities set up a three-member committee of inquiry after Prime Minister Khaleda Zia ordered an investigation. She conveyed her condolences to the bereaved families.

Gift-giving ritual

The crowd had been waiting all night outside the house of Abdul Wahid, owner of the Nahid Cotton Mills.

When the gates were opened the surge of people was so great that one of the walls of the compound collapsed, Reuters news agency reported.

Police say the gateman and the younger brother of the industrialist are suspected of negligence, and have been arrested.

At this time of the year it is traditional for rich people in Bangladesh to give away a portion of their income in advance of the Eid ceremony.

A BBC correspondent in Dhaka says that such stampedes were commonplace a decade ago, but more recently the authorities have taken measures to stop them from happening.

The committee of inquiry, headed by Additional Secretary Zulfiqar Haider Chowdhury, has been instructed to submit a detailed report within 10 days and to make specific recommendations to prevent any recurrence of such incidents.

The Indian Foreign Minister, Yashwant Sinha, expressed deep shock over the incident in a message to his Bangladesh counterpart, and conveyed his condolences.

In similar incidents 11 people died in 1989 and five in 1987.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Alistair Lawson
"The unfortunate thing is that women and children were at the head of the queue"
See also:

08 Aug 01 | South Asia
03 Mar 00 | South Asia
01 Nov 02 | Country profiles
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