At least 24 people were crushed to death and many more injured after a stampede broke out on Thursday at the main mosque in Mali's north-western city of Timbuktu.
AFP- A stampede at a famed mosque in Mali's northwestern desert city of Timbuktu crushed at least 24 people to death and left many more injured, police and hospital sources said Friday.
"People were circling the Djinguereber mosque, a ritual at each Mouloud (the observance of the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed) and there was a huge crowd built up," one of the witnesses, Mohamed Bandjougou, said of the accident late Thursday.
"I lost my sister. She was 16 and had gone to pray," said another resident, Ali Kounta.
Thousands of pilgrims come to Timbuktu for the prophet's birthday and an official said the accident appeared to have happened because of a bottleneck caused by renovation work on the 14th-century mosque made largely from mud.
"The mosque is being renovated, financed by the Aga Khan, and the work is carried out by South African specialists," an official at Timbuktu town hall told AFP, asking not to be named.
"Because of these renovations, the passage on the north side of the mosque is closed off. On that side, to get through, the faithful found an improvised alleyway.
"But the alley couldn't take the number of people using it. So there was a stampede. Somebody shouted 'someone has died' and panic took over," the official said.
Two other officials said rescue services had "very quickly" helped the "many injured".
"We're in mourning. What happened is a real drama. We accept the will of God. He gives us life, he takes it away," said the mosque's imam, who gave his name as Asseyuti.
Timbuktu was a renowned intellectual and religious centre during the 15th and 16th centuries, helping to spread Islam throughout Africa.
Today the area is desert, and while Timbuktu's name remains synonymous in Europe with the idea of an exotic faraway land, the town's historic buildings require constant renovation.
During the Mouloud celebration of the prophet's birthday in Mecca in 570, the faithful gather at night to pray, often in their thousands.
Religious gatherings of thousands of people heighten the chance of a deadly stampede.
In 2006, at least 364 people were killed in a stampede during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
A stampede at a Hindu temple in India's Rajasthan in 2008 killed 224 people, while two girls were killed and 40 injured at a stampede at a church-organised stadium event in Angola in 2009.
Date created : 2010-02-26