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Turkey's Erdogan Defends Saudi Handling Of Hajj, Dismissing Iran's Blame Game

26 September 2015

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to Saudi Arabia's defense on Friday amid a blame game after a stampede at the Haj pilgrimage killed more than 700 pilgrims.

''I do not sympathize with the hostile statements against Saudi Arabia,'' Erdogan told journalists.

The Turkish leader said that it would be wrong to ''point a finger at Saudi Arabia which does its best'' to make the annual Haj pilgrimage possible.

''You have to see the glass as half full,'' he said, adding that each country suffers failures.

The holy pilgrimage has been particularly deadly this year. On September 11, a crane fell at Makkah's Grand Mosque, killing 109 people.

Then on Thursday at least 717 people were killed, and several hundred more injured in the worst tragedy to strike the annual Muslim pilgrimage in a quarter-century.

Earlier Friday, a leader from Turkey's ruling party said Turkey could better organize the Haj if it had the opportunity.

''If Turkey was charged with organizing the Haj, we would make sure that nobody suffered any harm,'' Mehmet Ali Sahin, vice president of the country's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), told Dogan news agency.

Iranian leaders have been deeply critical of the Saudi authorities over what they charge were flawed safety measures that led to Thursday's tragedy.

Saudi Arabia had actually been spending billions of dollars to expand the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the pilgrimage areas to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims and to make it easier and more convenient for them to perform Haj.

Security officials and eyewitnesses have been reported saying the stampede happened because one set of pilgrims who have already completed the "stoning the devil" ritual at the Jamarat pushed their way through a gate designated as an entrance, instead of exiting through the proper gate.

Other Muslims say pilgrims should be educated in their countries about security consciousness and proper decorum in performing Haj before they set forth for the "journey of a lifetime." 

Saudi minister: Pilgrims may have ignored instructions

Saudi Arabia's health minister said a crush that killed more than 700 people at the Hajj pilgrimage may have been caused by pilgrims failing to follow instructions from authorities.

In a statement posted on the ministry's website on Friday, the minister, Khalid al-Falih, said an investigation would be conducted rapidly into the worst disaster to strike the annual Hajj pilgrimage for 25 years.

At least 863 others were injured during the stampede at the Hajj, the world's largest annual gathering of people.

"The investigations into the incident of the stampede that took place today 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," the statement said.

Falih said the injured were being transferred to hospitals in Mecca and if necessary on to other parts of the country.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud said he had ordered a review of the Hajj plans after the disaster, in which two large groups of pilgrims collided with each other at a crossroad in Mina, a few kilometres east of Mecca, on their way to performing the "stoning of the devil" ritual at Jamarat.

The findings of the investigation will be submitted to King Salman, "who will take appropriate measures" in response, the Saudi Press agency said.

Saudi Arabia's interior ministry said the crush of pilgrims appeared to have been caused by two waves of pilgrims meeting at an intersection.

Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour al-Turki said high temperatures and fatigue may also have been factors in the disaster.



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