Thursday, January 12, 2006

Religion de Piedras

The annual stoning of the wall in Mecca claims more victims:

According to the Saudi interior ministry 345 people have been crushed to death during a stoning ritual on the final day of the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Hundreds of people were killed as crowds tried to squeeze through the eastern entrance of the Jamarat Bridge in Mena, a narrow valley outside the holy city.

....In the ritual, the faithful stand on the Jamarat Bridge and hurl stones at three thick walls in a symbolic rejection of temptation.

....Following a similar accident in 2004 when around 250 pilgrims were killed the Saudi government modernised the Jamarat area, expanding the stoning targets and providing 60,000 security men to control crowds.

After this year's pilgrimage, the Jamarat bridge will be replaced at a cost of more than a billion dollars. The new bridge will include a four-level system of entrances and exits to the three walls, as well as a subway.

Of course, they've tried modernizing before:

The Saudi interior ministry had promised a "special plan" to ensure a smooth flow of pilgrims towards the pillars.

Saudi troops patrolled the area, monitoring crowds, and helicopters flew overhead.
First aid crews and ambulances also gathered under the bridge to deal with those affected by the overcrowding or heat exhaustion.

"It was a piece of cake this year," Mecca native Sulayman Fallata told the AFP news agency.

Saudi Arabia has spent millions of dollars since 2004 to improve safety measures at Mina.
New footbridges with emergency exits were built and three new pillars were erected that were wider and taller than ones used previously, so more pilgrims could pelt rocks at the same time.

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