23 killed in crush for Indonesia handout

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At least 23 people were crushed to death Monday when residents of an Indonesian town surged forward while waiting to collect 40,000 rupiah (US$4.25) handouts from a rich family in an annual tradition, officials said.

The handouts were part of charity events marking the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan in the town of Pasuran, some 800 kilometers (nearly 500 miles) east of the capital, said local police chief Harry Sitompul.

Several thousands gathered outside the house from early morning in expectation of the tithe.

Television footage showed women screaming as they were pushed into the fence of the house by the crowd. At 23 people were killed and at least 8 others were in critical condition, Sitompul said.

Most of the dead were women, said Budi, a worker at the morgue who goes by a single name.

"They died because of a lack of oxygen or were trampled to death after being pushed from behind in the crush," he said.

Wealthy people often give money directly to large numbers of the poor during Ramadan, when most of Indonesia's 235 million people fast during daylight hours. However, crowd control is problematic and deaths have occurred at similar events in the past.

"There was no coordination with police during the handout," said mayor Aminurohman, who like many Indonesians goes by a single name.

Media reports said the charity-giver, who was accompanied by his wife during the handout, was a car dealer.