Muslim pilgrims stone devil amid tight control

Mon Dec 8, 2008 4:14pm EST
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By Inal Ersan

MENA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - More than two million Muslim pilgrims stoned walls symbolizing the devil in a narrow valley outside Mecca in Saudi Arabia Monday at the most dangerous stage of the haj pilgrimage.

Pilgrims began three days of stoning and celebrated the first day of Eid al-Adha, commemorating the willingness of biblical patriarch Abraham to sacrifice his son for God.

"It took a long time since they made us go in one line, but it was easy to do," said Osama Khashaba, an Egyptian accountant, after throwing stones at the Jamarat Bridge in a ritual that represents rejection of temptation.

The bridge in the valley of Mena just outside Mecca has been the scene of a number of deadly stampedes. The last was in 2006 when 362 people were crushed to death in the worst haj tragedy since 1990.

Saudi authorities have made renovations to ease the flow of pilgrims at the bridge, adding an extra level so that they have four platforms from which to throw stones each day.

Authorities also appealed to pilgrims this year to throw their stones at any time of day rather than only in the afternoon, as Saudi clerics had insisted in the past.

Saudi Arabia has not so far reported any glitches in the haj, a challenging logistical feat that has been marred in previous years by deadly fires, hotel collapses, police clashes with protesters and stampedes caused by overcrowding.

"Let's make the accidents at the stoning part of history, may it never return," Saudi television said in one program.   Continued...

<p>A general view is seen of Muslim pilgrims outside Mecca December 7, 2008. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah</p>