Monday, April 2, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


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40 pilgrims killed in Pak shrine stampede

Pak Pattan, Pakistan, April 1
About 40 persons were killed and more than 100 injured in a stampede at a Muslim shrine in Pakistan’s central province of Punjab, ambulance workers and state media said on Sunday.

Witnesses said the stampede at the shrine of the 13th century saint Baba Fariduddin Ganj Shakar in the town of Pak Pattan happened as thousands of devotees pushed forward to pass through a holy gate at the start of an annual feast.

“As a result 40 devotees were killed and dozens of others were injured in the stampede,” the official APP news agency said.

The ambulance workers said 30 persons were crushed to death at the scene as the pilgrims rushed forward after the Behishti Darwaza, or “Paradise Gate”, was opened before midnight on Saturday to inaugurate the feast known as “urs”.

Some of the injured died later in a hospital, they said. The ambulance workers and hospital officials said about 125 persons were injured.

Followers of the saint 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 165 km (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. The district administration and the shrine management appeared to blame each other for the accident.

A statement issued by the District Magistrate said the stampede happened because the ceremony was delayed for three hours and some persons tried to enter the shrine from a northern gate that was not meant to be open for access. 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 administrative personnel to control the crowd which kept on moving, crushing the weak devotees dead,” The News reported.

Gen Pervez Musharraf expressed his heart-felt sorrow over the incident, state radio said. Reuters

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