Saudi Arabia, under growing pressure to account for a stampede that killed more than 700 people at Thursday’s hajjj, yesterday suggested that pilgrims failing to follow crowd control rules bore some blame for the worst such disaster in 25 years.
The kingdom’s regional rival, Iran, expressed outrage at the deaths of 131 of its nationals at the world’s largest annual gathering of people, and politicians in Tehran suggested Riyadh was incapable of managing the event.
“Death to the Saudi dynasty,” hundreds of demonstrators chanted at a protest in Tehran..
Saudi Minister of Health Khalid al-Falih said an investigation would be conducted rapidly and a final toll of dead and wounded calculated. At least 863 pilgrims were injured.
“The investigations into the incident of the stampede that took place today [Thursday] in Mina, which was perhaps because some pilgrims moved without following instructions by the relevant authorities, will be fast and will be announced as has happened in other incidents,” Falih said in a statement.
Falih’s comments were likely to be seen by the kingdom’s critics as an attempt to deflect responsibility for the incident: Safety during hajjj is politically sensitive for the kingdom’s Al Saud Dynasty, since the ruling family presents itself internationally as the guardian of orthodox Islam and custodian of its holiest places in Mecca and Medina.
With photographs of piles of the dead circulating on social media and pilgrims frantically searching for missing compatriots, the effort to uncover the facts and assign blame was likely to grow more acute and possibly more political.
The disaster appeared to put pilgrims on edge.
“It is simply scary to hear how people crushed one another,” said Hakim, from Morocco. “More frightening is that we do not know how it happened.”
A pilgrim who asked to be identified only as Abu Abdallah said security forces appeared on high alert after the deaths.
“What happened is a tragedy and many people ... are terrified, but in the end we can only pursue our hajj duties,” he said.
Saudi King Salman ordered a review of hajj plans after the disaster, in which two big groups of pilgrims collided at a crossroads in Mina, a few kilometers east of Mecca, on their way to performing the “stoning of the devil” ritual at Jamarat.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, echoed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in blaming Riyadh for the incident.
“I ask the Saudi Arabian government to take responsibility for this catastrophe and fulfil its legal and Islamic duties in this regard,” Rouhani said in a statement published on the state news agency IRNA.
Iranian state television said the demonstrators in Tehran were showing their anger at “Saudi incapability and incompetence to run the hajj.”
“The world will not accept excuses like the weather was hot or the pilgrims were disorganized,” Tehran Friday prayer leader Mohammed Emami-Kashani was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian also called “Riyadh’s negligence inexcusable” and announced a committee has been established to look into the incident.
Iranians pilgrims who survived the deadly incident described Saudi’s response as “too little, too late,” Iran’s state run Press TV said. They said the rescuers arrived at the scene two hours after the incident and started collecting dead bodies first instead of helping the injured.
Saudi Arabian Ministry of the Interior spokesman Major General Mansour Turki was quoted in Saudi media yesterday as saying the security forces had immediately responded and begun to rescue those who fell in the crush.
FORCED LABOR: Customs officials have seized a 11.8 tonne shipment of products made from human hair on suspicion they were produced by people facing human rights abuses Federal authorities in New York City on Wednesday seized a shipment of weaves and other beauty accessories suspected to be made out of human hair taken from people locked inside a Chinese internment camp. US Customs and Border Protection (CPB) officials said that 11.8 tonnes of hair products worth an estimated US$800,000 were in the shipment. “The production of these goods constitutes a very serious human rights violation, and the detention order is intended to send a clear and direct message to all entities seeking to do business with the United States that illicit and inhumane practices will not be tolerated in
JUST QUESTIONS: Expelled reporter Ai Kezhu said that every member of Southeast Television had complied with the law and had not appeared on any talk shows Two Chinese reporters yesterday left Taiwan after the government revoked their accreditation and ordered them to leave amid a probe into allegations that several Chinese media outlets have set up studios and produced political talk shows in Taiwan. The two reporters — Ai Kezhu (艾珂竹) and Lu Qiang (盧薔) — worked for Fujian Province-based Southeast Television and arrived in Taiwan in December last year. The Mainland Affairs Council has launched an investigation after local media reported that Chinese broadcasters — including China Central Television, Southeast Television and FJTV — had set up studios in Taipei and produced political talk shows. Council Deputy Minister
UPTICK IN NUMBERS: The Taipei deputy mayor said the city has services to assist new immigrants, but has established an office specifically to help those from Hong Kong The Taiwan-Hong Kong Services and Exchanges Office today officially opens, where it is to provide humanitarian assistance to Hong Kongers, after Beijing yesterday passed a controversial national security law for the territory. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) expressed dismay over China’s passage of the law, saying that Beijing has broken its pledge to allow Hong Kong to maintain a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years following its handover from the UK. “I feel extremely disappointed [about the law’s passage], which means China did not keep its promise to Hong Kong,” Tsai said in Taipei. Beijing’s “broken promise” also
PROBE LAUNCHED: An officer who served as a supervisor in the drill died in an apparent suicide after the accident, which was caused by unexpected waves Two marines who were on Friday injured in a military exercise in the waters off Kaohsiung passed away yesterday, Navy Command said. The marines — surnamed Tsai (蔡), 26, and a sergeant surnamed Chen (陳), 36 — were in a seven-member Marine Corps team that encountered rough seas during a simulated response to enemy forces landing on Taiwan. Their rubber craft overturned in waters off Taoziyuan (桃子園) beach in Zuoying District (左營), injuring four of the marines. They were rushed to hospital, where three of them — Tsai, Chen and a 34-year-old sergeant — were taken to an intensive care unit