14 killed in mosque stampede in Ningxia

A witness says there was massive overcrowding at the building in Ningxia and many of the fatalities appeared to be children

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 January, 2014, 8:34am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 January, 2014, 2:52am

Fourteen people were killed and 10 injured in a stampede at a mosque in the northern Ningxia Hui autonomous region, state media reported.

The accident happened in Xiji near Guyuan as traditional cakes were handed out to people attending an event to commemorate a late religious leader, Xinhua said.

A student who attended the event and asked not to be named said the stampede on Sunday was triggered by the collapse of metal bars that marked the edges of the venue.

She said the building was overcrowded and the bars gave way.

About 30,000 to 40,000 people were at the venue, including pilgrims from other counties and cities in the region, according to the witness who fell to the floor during the stampede but was not injured.

Many of the people killed appeared to be children, she said. She described the scenes at the mosque as chaotic.

A Communist Party committee in Ningxia said yesterday the stampede was caused by poor organisation and insufficient supervision, according to a report on the regional news website NXNews.net

Four of the injured were in critical condition and had been transferred to a hospital in Guyuan, an official at the emergency department of the Xiji People's Hospital said, who declined to give his full name.

The other injured were in a stable condition, he said.

Pictures taken by the student, which she uploaded to her Weibo page nearly six hours before Xinhua ran its story early on Monday morning, were widely picked up by the mainland media.

The witness said in a message on her Weibo account that the authorities had tried to stop people taking pictures at the mosque. She did not want to be named because her photos were taken without permission.

One photograph taken after the stampede showed a row of seven bodies, some of them children wearing colourful winter clothes.

Another picture showed collapsed metal bars, along with clothes and shoes strewn across the earthen floor of what appears to be part of a basketball court.

The head of the public relations department of the Guyuan government, Ma Jinping, and the city's police chief , Chen Gang, both declined to comment when contacted by phone.

A man who answered the phone at a police station about 25-minutes drive from the mosque said it had received an order from the city's public security bureau and sent officers to the scene.

He said he did not know any other details about the incident.

Some internet users displayed images of red candles online to commemorate those who died in the disaster.

Others speculated what might have triggered the stampede.

"It must be thoroughly investigated," one said.

President Xi Jinping has called for all-out efforts in treating the injured.

He also demanded that the region's authorities discover the cause of the accident and "ensure social stability" in the area.

The northwestern region of Ningxia is home to many of the Muslim Hui minority on the mainland. The semi-desert region's six million Hui make up 36 per cent of its population. Xiji is mainly an agricultural area and one of the main centres of the Hui minority.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse