Saudi Arabia Struggles with Rising Death Toll From Stampede - NBC New York
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Saudi Arabia Struggles with Rising Death Toll From Stampede

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    Saudi Arabia Struggles with Rising Death Toll From Stampede
    AP
    Muslim pilgrims walk in a tunnel on their way to cast stones at Jamarrat pillars, a ritual that symbolises the stoning of Satan, during the annual pilgrimage, known as the hajj, in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015.

    As the hajj religious pilgrimage entered its final day Saturday, officials in Saudi Arabia continued to grapple with the aftermath of a deadly stampede that killed at least 719 people.

    India's government raised its estimated death toll for Indian citizens from 14 to 18, while Pakistan raised its estimated death toll from eight to 11.

    Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said Saturday in a press statement that his government was "working with Saudi authorities and family members" to confirm the identities of the deceased and expedite formalities for release of the bodies.

    Meanwhile Iran, whose citizens comprised the largest number of fatalities confirmed so far, announced in a state TV broadcast that among those Iranians still missing are Ghazanfar Roknabadi, a former ambassador to Lebanon, as well as two Iranian state TV reporters and a prominent political analyst. According to the TV report, 134 Iranian pilgrims died and 85 were injured in the Thursday incident, while 354 Iranian pilgrims remain missing.

    Iran has strongly criticized archrival Saudi Arabia over the disaster, blaming the Saudi government for "incompetence" and "mismanagement" of the annual hajj — which draws about 2 million pilgrims per year from more than 180 countries.

    In the worst hajj disaster in a quarter century, at least 719 people were crushed or trampled to death, while 863 were injured when two huge waves of pilgrims converged Thursday on a street near a religious site in Mina. That followed an accident Sept. 11 in which a storm toppled a crane at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, killing 111 people.

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, questioned whether the Saudi government could be trusted with the responsibility of overseeing the hajj. Rouhani told a group of editors Friday that both the stampede and the crane collapse suggested "ineptitude" on the part of Saudi authorities, and that they could be viewed as "not sufficiently responsible to be hosting" such large groups of people.

    Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah group and a close ally of Iran, said the Saudi government bears the responsibility for the accident. He called for the countries with the most victims, such as Iran and Morocco, to participate in the investigation to ensure that there is no cover up by the Saudis.

    The repeated nature of these incidents "means there is malfunction in the administration," Nasrallah said in an interview Friday on Hezbollah's Al-Manar channel. "They say they want an investigation, so we call that at minimum there must be delegates from the countries with many victims in this accident."