Sunday, 4 October 2015

Thousands attend funerals of Iranians killed in haj stampede


Thousands of mourners attended funeral services in Iran on Sunday for pilgrims killed in a stampede during last month’s haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, a disaster that has stoked tensions between the two regional rivals.

A ceremony at Tehran University was one of several held for dozens of victims whose remains were flown back to Iran the day before. Another 114 bodies arrived Sunday.
Iran has blamed Saudi authorities for the disaster, and mourners at the Tehran ceremony chanted “death to Al-Saud,” referring to Saudi Arabia’s ruling family.
The disaster has fed into the bitter regional rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, which back opposite sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen.

Saudi authorities say 769 pilgrims died in the stampede near Mecca in the worst disaster to strike the annual pilgrimage in a quarter-century. Iran appears to have lost the largest number of pilgrims, with 464 dead.
The pilgrims suffocated or were trampled to death when two massive crowds converged on a narrow street in the tent city of Mina. Saudi Arabia has launched an investigation and says officials will be held accountable if it finds that mistakes were made.
Iran has accused Riyadh of a cover-up, saying the total death toll exceeds 4,700. It has offered no evidence to corroborate the claim. It has also accused Saudi authorities of failing to quickly grant access to the dead and wounded and of being slow to facilitate the repatriation of remains.
The haj pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all able-bodied Muslims are required to undertake it once in their lives. This year some 2 million pilgrims from 180 countries took part in the haj, but Saudi Arabia has hosted more than 3 million pilgrims in recent years without any major incidents.

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