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Hajj starts in Saudi Arabia amid security

dpadpa 10/09/2016

Saudi authorities have stepped up security for the annual five-day Hajj pilgrimage to avoid a recurrence of last year's fatal stampede.

The annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage has started in Saudi Arabia amid increased security measures - such as GPS bracelets - to avoid the recurrence of last year's stampede which killed many hundreds of people.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, clad in seamless cloth, have since dawn on Saturday been leaving the Saudi holy city of Mecca for the nearby plain of Mina, marking the beginning of the Hajj.

They are to spend the night there.

At sunrise on Sunday, they will head for the Mount Arafat, around 20 kilometres east of Mecca, for a congregation that marks the climax of the Hajj.

Around 1.3 million Muslims have arrived in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, from at least 160 countries for this year's pilgrimage, according to Saudi official figures.

An additional 102,000 domestic pilgrims attend the event.

Saudi authorities have stepped up security for the five-day pilgrimage to tightly control the crowd.

The measures include the installation of hundreds of surveillance cameras in the holy sites.

Digital bracelets have also been issued to the pilgrims to help identify and guide them in the congestion. The bracelets are linked to a GPS location system.

In the 2015 Hajj, 769 pilgrims died in a stampede during the symbolic stone-throwing ritual in Mina, according to Saudi official figures.

A DPA tally and other independent reports, however, indicated that around 2000 pilgrims died in the incident, making it the worst Hajj tragedy on record.

Muslims are expected to perform the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime provided they are fit enough and have the financial means to do so.

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