Stampede at Timbuktu festival kills 26 pilgrims

Twenty-six people were crushed to death and 40 injured in a stampede at the famous 14th-century mud mosque in Mali's desert city, Timbuktu.

Crowds of pilgrims were circling the Djinguereber mosque, a ritual for the festival of Mouloud, the birthday of the Prophet Mohamed, on Thursday night. Witnesses said the accident happened at a bottleneck caused by renovation of the mosque.

Abdramane ben Essayouti, an imam, said: "People took to narrow alleys, there was jostling, and the tragedy occurred." Other witnesses described how people panicked in the overcrowded alleys, leading to a stampede. Amadou Toumani Toure, Mali's President, was en route to Timbuktu from the capital Bamako, a statement from his office said. Timbuktu was a renowned intellectual and religious centre during the 15th and 16th centuries, helping to spread Islam throughout Africa. The town and its monuments are Unesco World Heritage Sites.