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Middle East

Hundreds die in Hajj stampede

A stampede during a stoning ritual at the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca has killed 244 worshippers.

A similar number of pilgrims was also wounded during the stampede, which lasted 27 minutes, Hajj Minister Iyad Madani told reporters at a press conference in Mina.

The stoning is the most animated ritual of the annual pilgrimage and often the most dangerous. Many pilgrims frantically throw rocks, shout insults or hurl their shoes at pillars representing the devil.

Last year, 14 pilgrims were trampled to death during the ritual and 35 died in a 2001 stampede. In 1998, 180 pilgrims died there.

The annual hajj, which began on Thursday, climaxed on Saturday as some 2 million Muslim pilgrims listened to Saudi Arabia's top cleric denounce terrorists, calling them an affront to Islam. However, he defended the kingdom's strict interpretation of the faith.