At least 50 killed in stampede at Iranian general’s funeral, Tehran weighs response to U.S. attack

By Babak Dehghanpisheh and Ahmed Aboulenein

DUBAI/BAGHDAD (Reuters) – At least 50 people were killed in a stampede as mourners packed streets for the funeral of a slain Iranian military commander in his hometown on Tuesday, forcing his burial to be postponed, state media reported.

Tens of thousands of people had gathered in the southeastern city of Kerman to pay tribute to General Qassem Soleimani, whose killing in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq on Friday plunged the region into a new crisis and raised fears of a broader conflict.

A senior Iranian official said Tehran was considering several scenarios to avenge his killing. Other senior figures have said Iran will match the scale of Soleimani’s killing when it responds but that it will choose the time and place.

Tuesday’s stampede broke out amid the crush of mourners, killing 50 people, Iran’s ISNA news agency said, quoting the chief coroner for Kerman province, Abbas Amian. About 213 people were injured, an emergency services official told the semi-official Fars news agency.

The burial of Soleimani had been postponed, ISNA said, without adding long any delay would last.

“Today because of the heavy congestion of the crowd unfortunately a number of our fellow citizens who were mourning were injured and a number were killed,” emergency medical services chief Pirhossein Kolivand told state television.

The body of Soleimani, a national hero to many Iranians but viewed as a dangerous villain by Western governments opposed to the Islamic Republic, had been taken to Iraqi and Iranian cities before arriving in Kerman for burial.

In each place, huge numbers of people filled thoroughfares, chanting “Death to America” and weeping with emotion. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei shed tears when leading prayers in Tehran.

Soleimani, who commanded the elite Quds Force, was responsible for building up Tehran’s network of proxy armies across the Middle East. He was a key figure in orchestrating Iran’s long-standing campaign to drive U.S. forces out of Iraq.

Iran’s opponents say its proxies have fueled conflicts, killing and displacing people in Iraq, Syria and beyond. Tehran says any operations abroad are at the request of governments and that it offers “advisory support”.

The U.S. defense secretary denied reports the U.S. military was preparing to withdraw from Iraq, where Tehran has vied with Washington for influence since the 2003 U.S. invasion.

REVENGE

“We will take revenge, a hard and definitive revenge,” the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, General Hossein Salami, told the crowds in Kerman before the stampede.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said 13 “revenge scenarios” were being considered, Fars news agency reported. Even the weakest option would prove “a historic nightmare for the Americans,” he said.

Iran, whose coastline runs along a Gulf oil shipping route that includes the narrow Strait of Hormuz, has allied forces across the Middle East through which it can act. Representatives from those groups, including the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, attended funeral events in Tehran.

Despite its strident rhetoric, analysts say Iran will want to avoid any conventional conflict with the United States and is likely to focus on asymmetric strikes, such as sabotage or other military action via proxies.

Trump has promised to target 52 Iranian sites if Iran retaliates.

Reuters and other media reported on Monday that the U.S. military had sent a letter to Iraqi officials informing them U.S. troops were preparing to leave. But U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper denied there had been any decision to pull out.

About 5,000 U.S. troops are still in Iraq, where there has been a U.S. military presence since Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

FRICTION

Iraq’s parliament, dominated by lawmakers representing Muslim Shi’ite groups who have been united by the killing of Soleimani alongside an Iraqi militia leader, passed a resolution on Sunday calling for all foreign troops to leave.

Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi told the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad the resolution must be implemented.

Friction between Iran and the United States has risen since Washington withdrew in 2018 from a nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

The United States has imposed new economic sanctions on Iran, slashing Iranian oil exports, and Tehran said on Sunday it was dropping limitations on uranium enrichment, in its latest step back from commitments to the deal.

Washington denied a visa to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to allow him to attend a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York on Thursday, a U.S. official said.

Trump’s U.S. political rivals have challenged his decision to order the killing of Soleimani and questioned its timing in a U.S. election year. His administration said Soleimani was planning new attacks on U.S. interests without giving evidence.

U.S. general Milley said the threat from Soleimani was imminent. “We would have been culpably negligent to the American people had we not made the decision we made,” he said.

Trump administration officials will provide a classified briefing for U.S. senators on Wednesday on events in Iraq after some lawmakers accused the White House of risking a broad conflict without a strategy.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Dubai, Phil Stewart in Washington, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

At least 31 die during stampede at Ashura rituals in Iraq’s Kerbala

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – At least 31 people died and another 102 were wounded on Tuesday during the Shi’ite Muslim religious rituals of Ashura in Iraq’s southern holy city of Kerbala, in what officials at its Imam Hussein shrine described as a stampede.

The death toll released by the Iraqi Health Ministry was expected to rise, with at least nine people still in critical condition. Thirty people died on site and one more died in hospital, the Health Ministry spokesman said.

The ministry did not disclose how they had been killed but shrine officials told Reuters the stampede took place towards the end of the procession, when thousands of pilgrims rushed towards the shrine during what is known as the Tuwairij run.

“The pilgrims fell one on top of the other and we were unable to pull them out,” pilgrim Abdel Mahdi told Reuters.

Photographs circulated on social media showed dozens of people bloodied and lying across a walkway, while other pilgrims attempted to help.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi expressed his condolences to those killed in the stampede, while the Health Minister visited the wounded in hospital.

The annual pilgrimage marking the death of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Hussein in battle in 680 draws hundreds of thousands of Shi’ite Muslims to Kerbala from around the world.

Hussein’s death in a battle at Kerbala over the leadership of the Islamic community is one of the defining events in the schism between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims.

The rituals commemorating the death of Hussein involve self-flagellation, with crowds of mourners striking themselves and some lacerating their heads with blades. Stampedes have occurred in the past.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; writing by Raya Jalabi,; Editing by Peter Graff and Ed Osmond)

Fifteen dead in food aid stampede in Morocco: ministry

People gather at the place where 15 people were killed when a stampede broke out in the southwestern Moroccan town of Sidi Boulaalam as food aid was being distributed in a market, in Sidi Boullaalam, Morocco November 20, 2017.

By Zakia Abdennebi

RABAT (Reuters) – Fifteen people were killed and five more injured when a stampede broke out in a southwestern Moroccan town on Sunday as food aid was being distributed in a market, the Interior Ministry said.

A hospital source put the death toll at 18, adding that most victims were women who had been scrambling for food handed out by a rich man in the small coastal town of Sidi Boulaalam.

A local journalist said the donor had organised similar handouts before, but this year some 1,000 people arrived, storming an iron barrier under which several women were crushed.

King Mohammed ordered that the victims’ families be given any assistance they needed and the wounded treated at his cost, the ministry said in a statement, adding that a criminal investigation had been opened.

Last month, the king dismissed the ministers of education, planning and housing and health after an economic agency found “imbalances” in implementing a development plan to fight poverty in the northern Rif region.

The Rif saw numerous protests after a fishmonger was accidentally crushed to death in a garbage truck in October 2016 after a confrontation with police, and he became a symbol of the effects of corruption and official abuse.

In July, the king pardoned dozens of people arrested in the protests and accused local officials of stoking public anger by being too slow to implement development projects.

 

(Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Cynthia Osterman)

 

Some killed in blast at Ariana Grande concert in British arena

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – A blast on Monday night at a concert in the northern English city of Manchester where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing left an unknown number of people dead and injured, police said.

Police said they were responding to reports of an explosion and that there were a number of confirmed casualties and others injured.

“We were making our way out and when we were right by the door there was a massive explosion and everybody was screaming,” concert-goer Catherine Macfarlane told Reuters.

“It was a huge explosion — you could feel it in your chest. It was chaotic. Everybody was running and screaming and just trying to get out.”

Concert goers react after fleeing the Manchester Arena in northern England where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing in Manchester, Britain,

Concert goers react after fleeing the Manchester Arena in northern England where U.S. singer Ariana Grande had been performing in Manchester, Britain, May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jon Super

Manchester Arena, the largest indoor arena in Europe, opened in 1995 and has a capacity for 21,000 people, according to its website. It is a popular concert and sporting venue.

A spokesman for Ariana Grande’s record label said that the singer was “okay”. A video posted on Twitter showed fans screaming and running out of the venue.

Britain is on its second-highest alert level of “severe” meaning an attack by militants is considered highly likely.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Protests hit Ethiopia after stampede deaths

A man mourns during the funeral of Tesfu Tadese Biru, 32, a construction engineer who died during a stampede after police fired warning shots at an anti-government protest in Bishoftu during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Denkaka Kebele

By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Protests broke out in some areas of Ethiopia’s Oromiya region on Monday, a day after dozens of people were killed in a stampede at a religious festival sparked by a bid by police to quell demonstrations, witnesses said.

Opposition politicians and government officials gave contrasting tolls of casualties that took place during the annual Irreecha festival in the town of Bishoftu, some 40 km (25 miles) south of the capital Addis Ababa, where police fired teargas and shots in the air to disperse protesters.

The manager of the town’s government-operated referral hospital said the death toll had risen to 55, with 100 injured, from 52 dead on Sunday. An opposition leader told Reuters the number of dead stood at around 150.

On Monday, witnesses said crowds took to the streets in Oromiya’s Ambo, Guder, Bule Hora and other towns in response to the deaths.

“Shots are still being fired. Everything remains shut – Ambo has been brought to a standstill,” said Mesfin, a university student who did not want to give his full name out of fear of reprisal.

Two other residents of the other towns said scuffles took place between demonstrators and police.

The region’s assistant police chief told journalists that “widespread disturbances” had taken place in several parts of the region.

“Roads have been blocked, while government offices and vehicles have been burnt down. Police are trying to put an end to all this,” said Sorri Dinka, deputy commissioner of the Oromiya Police Commission.

The Horn of Africa country has declared three days of national mourning, with flags flying at half mast throughout the country to pay tribute to the victims.

Sporadic protests have erupted in Oromiya over the last two years, initially triggered by a land row but increasingly turning more broadly against the government. Scores of protesters have been killed in clashes with police since late last year.

The developments highlight tensions in the country where the government has delivered high economic growth rates but faces criticism from opponents and rights groups that it has reduced political freedoms.

The government blames rebel groups and dissidents abroad for stirring up the protests and provoking violence. It dismisses charges that it clamps down on free speech or on its opponents.

Merera Gudina, chairman of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, said Sunday’s death toll had climbed to 150 people and that some of the victims were shot dead by police, contrary to official claims.

“We are calling on the government to establish an independent inquiry,” he told Reuters.

(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by George Obulutsa and Richard Balmforth)

Over 700 People Killed in Stampede in Hajj Pilgrimage Near Mecca

According to Saudi Arabia officials, more than 700 people have been killed and more than 800 have been injured in a stampede as millions of Muslims made their pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca.

The stampede took place about two miles from Mecca in a tent city called Mina during the ritual known as “stoning the devil.” Pilgrims sleep in 160,000 tents in Mina during the hajj because it is located in a valley where the symbolic stone throwing ritual is held. During the “stoning of the devil,” pebbles are thrown at three stone pillars that represent the devil.

Saudi Arabia’s civil defense directorate reported that the stampede occurred when a large number of pilgrims surged at an intersection of two streets. Saudi Arabia’s health minister released a statement baling the tragedy on the pilgrims who didn’t follow directions, according to CNN.

Hours after the stampede, pilgrims continued their journey. One pilgrim, Ethar El-Katatney, was near the site of the stampede five hours after it happened. She watched as medical personnel and police officers pulled bodies out of the edges of the crowd.

“I saw the ambulances, I saw bodies. … At least 20, 30 ambulances passed me by,” she told CNN by phone as she tried to reach the pillars herself.

NBC reports that more than 220 rescue vehicles and 4,000 first responders were at the site.

Thursday’s stampede is the deadliest pilgrimage incident since 1990, when 1,426 people were killed in an overcrowded tunnel leading to Mecca’s holy site. Since then, crushes and stampedes leading to many deaths have taken place in 1994, 1998, 2001, 2004, and 2006.