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36 Crushed to Death in Surge to Reach Paradise Gate in Pakistan

From Reuters

Authorities said Sunday that at least 36 pilgrims had been killed in a stampede at a Muslim shrine in the central province of Punjab.

The stampede took place just before midnight Saturday when thousands of pilgrims rushed forward after the Behishti Darwaza, or Paradise Gate, was opened to inaugurate the annual feast, known as urs, at the shrine of a 13th century saint in the town of Pakpattan.

The official APP news agency first put the death toll at 40 but later revised the figure to 32, quoting a senior administrator of the region. But late in the evening, state television said the toll had increased to 36.

Ambulance workers in Pakpattan said 30 people were crushed to death at the scene and others died later at a hospital. They said 125 were injured.

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The Punjab provincial government appointed a judicial tribunal to investigate the cause of the incident and suggest ways to prevent similar tragedies from happening, APP said.

Followers of the saint Baba Fariduddin Ganj Shakar believe that passing through the Behishti Darwaza will earn them a place in paradise after death.

“People ran over each other the moment the Behishti Darwaza was opened to inaugurate the urs,” the News daily reported.

The atmosphere inside the shrine, about 100 miles southwest of the provincial capital, Lahore, was hot and suffocating because of the crowd and “many people fainted and got trampled,” the newspaper said.

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A statement issued by the district magistrate said the stampede occurred because the ceremony had been delayed for three hours and some people had tried to enter the shrine from a northern gate that was not meant to be open.

But newspapers quoted a shrine spokesman as saying two magistrates on duty had not taken proper steps to control the crowd.

“It was almost impossible for the administration personnel . . . to control the crowd,” the News reported.


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