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Senegal declares 3 days of mourning as fire death toll rises

© AFP/File | President Macky Sall, pictured in March 2017, visited the site of the fire that killed at least 25 people at a Muslim religious retreat in Senegal

DAKAR (AFP) - 

Senegal announced three days of mourning on Friday for the victims of a massive fire at a Muslim religious retreat this week, as the death toll from the catastrophe rose to 25.

The blaze broke out on Wednesday afternoon as worshippers belonging to the Tijaniyya Muslim group gathered near the town of Medina Gounass in southeastern Senegal, engulfing straw shelters erected for the pilgrims.

President Macky Sall visited the site on Friday and confirmed that Gambians and Mauritanians were also among the victims in footage broadcast on Senegal's RTS television.

"Taking account of the number of victims, as this morning another has passed away, we now have 25 dead and I have decided to announce today three days of national mourning, with flags flying at half-mast," Sall said.

Senegalese media reported Friday that police suspect a gas canister exploded as the pilgrims prepared tea at the retreat site.

Members of the powerful Tijaniyya Muslim brotherhood gather in their thousands to worship at the site every year. Pilgrims were weighed down with food and luggage, local media reported.

Around 95 percent of Senegal's population is Muslim and most men join Sufi brotherhoods that combine Islam with distinctive local beliefs.

© 2017 AFP