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Relatives mourn Morocco stampede victims

© AFP / by Hamza MEKOUAR | Morgue workers in Morocco's Essaouira on November 20, 2017 carry the body of one of the victims of a deadly stampede a day earlier during a food aid delivery

ESSAOUIRA (MOROCCO) (AFP) - 

Mourning relatives on Monday identified the bruised bodies of victims of a stampede that killed 15 women during a food aid delivery near the popular tourist town of Essaouira on Morocco's coast.

"I hardly recognised my mother," said Mjid, a son of one of the victims.

Hundreds of women had gathered on Sunday at a marketplace in the village of Sidi Boulaalam, around 60 kilometres (35 miles) northeast of Essaouira, for an annual distribution of food aid organised by a benefactor from the region.

A witness told AFP that people had pushed and broken down barriers as they fought for food.

Speaking from a hospital bed, one survivor compared the incident to deadly stampedes during the annual Islamic pilgrimage that draws millions of worshippers to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

"If you fall, it's over for you and you get trampled on," she said. "Nobody came to our aid, everyone was shouting for help."

Authorities have launched a probe into the tragedy, which also injured 10 women.

At the morgue of Essaouira's hospital, the scent of incense barely covered the stench of corpses wrapped in blankets.

Mohamed, a forensic doctor from Essaouira who preferred not to give his last name, said the bodies were "in a sorry state".

"They had severe fractures, huge bruises on the body," he said.

The families of the dead come to identify their relatives as ambulances waited to take the bodies away for burial.

"I lost my big sister," said Habiba, a woman bundled up in a pink djellaba robe, a veil over her hair.

"She came to get oil and flour, but there were too many people. She fell and was trampled on," the 57-year-old said.

The press and social media users have blamed Morocco's glaring social and regional inequalities for the accident, calling it a "two-speed country".

News website Medias 24 blamed poverty for the crush, calling it an "unprecedented tragedy".

"People here are needy, there is no agriculture, no work," Mjid said.

He moved from Sidi Boulaalam to commercial capital Casablanca as a young man, leaving behind a village of 8,000 people eking out a meagre living from their livestock, far from the developed infrastructure of Morocco's main cities.

Provincial officials said arrangements had been made for the aid delivery, but "the crowd exceeded estimates".

Khalid Azourar, a member of a local NGO, blamed the accident on a lack of organisation.

"Poverty is in people's minds," he said. "People do not know how to respect a queue".

An official report in early October slammed severe poverty in rural areas of Morocco.

Medias 24 said Sidi Boulaalam was "one of the poorest" villages in the country.

by Hamza MEKOUAR

© 2017 AFP