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Death toll from Hajj stampede rises

Iran alleges that mismanagement led to disaster and threatens legal action against Saudi ruling family

The death toll in a stampede at the annual Hajj pilgrimage outside Mecca has risen to 769, Saudi Arabia said on Saturday, as regional archrival Iran said Saudi officials should be tried in an international court for what it called a "crime."

Pilgrims suffocated or were trampled to death Thursday when two massive crowds converged on a narrow street, in the worst disaster to occur during the annual pilgrimage in a quarter-century. Shia Iran has accused its Sunni archrival Saudi Arabia of mismanaging the pilgrimage, which annually draws some 2 million people from 180 countries.

At least 136 Iranians were killed in the stampede, comprising the largest group of casualties identified so far. Iranian state TV said Ghazanfar Roknabadi, a former Iranian ambassador to Lebanon, as well as two Iranian state TV reporters and a prominent political analyst are among those still missing.

"Under international law, this incident is absolutely subject to prosecution. The al-Saud must be responsive," Iran's State Prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi told state TV, referring to Saudi Arabia's ruling family.

He charged that Saudi authorities blocked a road used by Hajj pilgrims to allow a royal convoy to pass through, causing the deadly convergence in the town of Mina on the outskirts of Mecca.

"They have to know that we will pursue the trial of al-Saud for the crime they have committed against the Hajj pilgrims through international courts and organizations."

Iran's Foreign Ministry meanwhile summoned the Saudi charge d'affaires for a third time in three days to protest Riyadh's handling of the disaster. State TV said Saudi Arabia has yet to issue visas for an Iranian delegation to visit the kingdom to oversee the treatment of injured Iranians and the repatriation of remains.

Speaking to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, top Saudi cleric Abdulaziz al-Sheikh said he did not hold authorities responsible for the disaster.

"You are not responsible for what happened. You dealt with the beneficial factors that were in your hands and within your ability. As for the things that humans cannot control, you cannot be blamed for them. Fate and destiny are inevitable," Sheikh, known as the Grand Mufti, said in a televised statement.

India's government meanwhile raised its estimated death toll of Indian citizens to 18, while Pakistan raised its figure to 11.

Wire services

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