Top Iran leader warns of ‘harsh’ mea­sures over hajj dis­as­ter

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY ALI AK­BAR DAREINI AND AMIR VAH­DAT

Iran’s top leader on Wed­nes­day warned Saudi Ara­bia of “harsh” mea­sures if the king­dom fails to promptly repa­tri­ate the bod­ies of more than 200 Ira­nian pil­grims killed in last week’s hajj stam­pede.

Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei’s warn­ing came as Iran sum­moned Riyadh’s en­voy for the fourth time since last Thurs­day’s deadly crush of pil­grims to protest what it called the king­dom’s “mis­han­dling” of the in­ci­dent.

Saudi author­i­ties say 769 pil­grims died in the stam­pede near Mecca in the worst dis­as­ter to strike the an­nual pil­grim­age in a quar­ter­century. Iran ap­pears to have lost the largest num­ber of pil­grims, with 239 dead.

Tehran says 241 Ira­nian pil­grims re­main un­ac­counted for, and Iran’s state media have ac­cused Saudi Ara­bia of a cover-up, say­ing the to­tal death toll ex­ceeds 4,700. It has of­fered no ev­i­dence to cor­rob­o­rate the claim.

The dis­as­ter has fed into the bit­ter re­gional ri­valry be­tween Sunni Saudi Ara­bia and Shi­ite Iran, which back op­po­site sides in the wars in Syria and Ye­men.

Iran has led a cho­rus of in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism di­rected at Saudi Ara­bia’s re­sponse to the in­ci­dent, say­ing its diplo­mats were not given ac­cess to vic­tims un­til days af­ter the stam­pede.

Ira­ni­ans have staged daily protests near the Saudi Em­bassy in Tehran, and Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani de­voted a sig­nif­i­cant part of his speech at the U.N. Gen­eral As- sem­bly on Mon­day to blam­ing Saudi author­i­ties for the dis­as­ter and de­mand­ing it be “fully in­ves­ti­gated.”

Khamenei said Saudi Ara­bia “will not be in a good sit­u­a­tion” if it dis­re­spects Ira­nian pil­grims or fails to repa­tri­ate bod­ies.

“The Saudi gov­ern­ment is not car­ry­ing out its obli­ga­tion to repa­tri­ate and in some cases shows sly­ness,” Khamenei told mil­i­tary com­man­ders in north­ern Iran in com­ments broad­cast on state TV.

“The Is­lamic Re­pub­lic of Iran has so far showed self-re­straint, ob­served Is­lamic de­cency and broth­erly re­spect in the Is­lamic world, but they should know that Iran’s hand is su­pe­rior to many oth­ers and has more ca­pa­bil­i­ties. If (Iran) wants to re­act to dis­turb­ing and sin­is­ter el­e­ments, their sit­u­a­tion will not be good.”

Khamenei has al­ready called on Saudi Ara­bia to apol­o­gize to Mus­lim na­tions and ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for the hajj dis­as­ter.

The pil­grims suf­fo­cated or were tram­pled to death when two mas­sive crowds con­verged on a nar­row street in the tent city of Mina, just out­side Mecca. Saudi Ara­bia has launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and says of­fi­cials will be held ac­count­able if it finds that mis­takes were made.

The hajj pil­grim­age is one of the five pil­lars of Is­lam, and all able­bod­ied Mus­lims are re­quired to un­der­take it once in their lives. This year some 2 mil­lion pil­grims from 180 coun­tries took part in the hajj.

The pil­grim­age poses a ma­jor lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenge for Saudi Ara­bia, but the coun­try has hosted more than 3 mil­lion pil­grims in re­cent years with­out any ma­jor in­ci­dents.

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