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.
‘HERO OF THE ERA’: President Tsai Ing-wen expressed deep sadness at Lee’s passing, and told the government to assist his family with all their needs Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) passed away at 7:24pm yesterday at Taipei Veterans General Hospital. He was 97 years old. The hospital stated the cause of death as septic shock and multiple organ failure. Lee had been hospitalized there since February, when he choked on a mouthful of milk at home. He was later diagnosed with pulmonary infiltrates and aspiration pneumonia. The hospital said that Lee had been treated with antibiotics, but that his health had not improved, as his advanced age and diabetes had inhibited his immune system and led to recurring infections. During his hospitalization, Lee underwent daily kidney dialysis, which removed
‘WEAK POSITIVE’: The man arrived in Taiwan in May and was quarantined for two weeks, Chen Shih-chung said, adding that he might be infected a long time ago The government is considering tightening mask-wearing rules again in light of a potential domestic COVID-19 infection, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said yesterday. The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) confirmed seven new COVID-19 cases, six of which are imported. The other case involves a Belgian engineer who entered Taiwan on May 3 and remained in quarantine until May 17, said Chen, who heads the CECC. Although the source of infection has yet to be identified, the case could end the nation’s record of not having any domestic cases in the previous 110 days. The Belgian, in his 20s, is a technician
RECEIVING TREATMENT: President Tsai Ing-wen, Vice President William Lai and Premier Su Tseng-chang visited former president Lee Teng-hui yesterday morning Taipei Veterans General Hospital yesterday rebutted speculation that former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) had died a day earlier, saying that he was weak, but receiving treatment. The hospital said the 97-year-old Lee was not in good condition and needed ongoing care, adding that if there are any changes in his condition, it would make those public. The comments came after rumors emerged online on Tuesday that Lee had died after being hospitalized since early February. Soon after the unsubstantiated rumors emerged, reporters started flocking to the hospital seeking confirmation. Lee was admitted to Taipei Veterans General Hospital on Feb. 8 after choking while drinking
THAI CASE UPDATE: Twenty-nine close contacts of the worker have been tested with two types of tests, including 18 dorm mates, with 28 negative results so far Five imported cases of COVID-19, four from the Philippines and one from Hong Kong, were reported yesterday, bringing the total confirmed cases in Taiwan to 467, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday. The four returning from the Philippines were on the same flight, and the local health department has identified 15 people who had direct contact with them — including 10 passengers in the two rows in front or behind them, who have been put under 14-day home isolation, and five crew members, who will practice 14-day self-health management, said Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang