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Toll in Karbala stampede rises to 31 dead: ministry

BAGHDAD: At least 31 pilgrims died Tuesday in a stampede at the shrine of Imam Hussain in Iraq´s Karbala where they were marking the holy day of Ashura, the health ministry said in a new toll.

Ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr said the toll could rise even further, as another 100 people were injured including 10 in critical condition.

It is the deadliest stampede in recent history during Ashura, when Shiite pilgrims from around the world swarm Karbala to commemorate the martyrdom  of Imam Hussain, Prophet Mohammad’s grandson.

On Tuesday, packed processions of black-clad worshippers made their way to his gold-domed shrine in Karbala, carrying black flags with “Hussain” written in red and wailing loudly.

Some mourners whipped their backs and chests in  sorrow at the Iraqi city of Karbala, also  in the capital Baghdad and in the southern cities of Najaf and Basra.

The day is a national holiday, with streets across the country shuttered to allow for elaborate re-enactments of the Battle of Karbala.

In 2005, at least 965 pilgrims heading to a shrine in Baghdad during a different holiday died after rumours of a suicide bomber in the crowd sparked a mass stampede

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