Saudi struggles with stampede aftermath as hajj ends
Muslim pilgrims walk past tents, a day after a stampede nearby in which more than 700 people died, in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca - AP

MINA, Saudi Arabia: As the hajj religious pilgrims entered its final day Saturday, officials in Saudi Arabia continued to grapple with the aftermath of a deadly stampede that killed at least 719 people.

India’s government raised its estimated death toll for Indian citizens from 14 to 18, while Pakistan raised its estimated death toll from eight to 11.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said Saturday in a press statement that his government was “working with Saudi authorities and family members” to confirm the identities of the deceased and expedite formalities for release of the bodies.

Meanwhile Iran, whose citizens comprised the largest number of fatalities confirmed so far, announced in a state TV broadcast that among those Iranians still missing are Ghazanfar Roknabadi, a former ambassador to Lebanon, as well as two Iranian state TV reporters and a prominent political analyst. According to the TV report, 134 Iranian pilgrims died and 85 were injured in the Thursday incident, while 354 Iranian pilgrims remain missing.

Iran has strongly criticized archrival Saudi Arabia over the disaster, blaming the Saudi government for “incompetence” and “mismanagement” of the annual hajj — which draws about 2 million pilgrims per year from more than 180 countries.

In the worst hajj disaster in a quarter century, at least 719 people were crushed or trampled to death, while 863 were injured when two huge waves of pilgrims converged Thursday on a street near a religious site in Mina. That followed an accident Sept. 11 in which a storm toppled a crane at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing 111 people.

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