MIDDLE EAST

More than 30 killed in Ashoura stampede in Iraq's Kerbala

Shi'ite Muslims commemorate Ashura in the holy city of Kerbala, Iraq. [Reuters Photo]

Over 30 people were killed and another 100 people wounded in a during Shiite celebrations in the city of , the Iraqi health ministry said. Tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims converge on the holy city for the occasion, which marks the anniversary of the death of , one of the grandsons of the prophet Mohammed.

Part of a walkway collapsed as tens of thousands of people celebrated Ashoura on Tuesday, causing a stampede and killing at least 31 pilgrims on one of the most sacred religious holy days for the Shiite sect, officials said.

Around 100 others were injured in the incident, which occurred toward the end of the procession, causing a panicked rush, according to two officials who spoke to The Associated Press from Karbala.

Hundreds of thousands of people converge on the holy city, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, for the occasion every year.

The somber day of Ashoura commemorates the killing of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, the , by a rival Muslim faction in Kerbala in present day , in 680 A.D. Hussein and his descendants are seen by Shiites as the rightful heirs to the prophet. Hussein's killing has been attributed with cementing the schism between Shiite and Sunni Islam.

In recent years, Ashoura processions have been attacked by extremist Sunni militants but Tuesday's commemorations were peaceful until the walkway collapsed.

The incident took place during the so-called "Tweireej" run, when tens of thousands of people run toward the shrine of Imam Hussein in around noon.

The 2-3 kilometer (1-2 mile) run symbolizes when maternal cousins of Imam Hussein's half-brother al-Abbas ran from the nearby village of Tweireej to rescue him only to find out that he was killed.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of thousands held Ashoura processions amid beefed-up security in Karbala and in the capital, , marching through the streets. Many of the faithful beat their chests and lashed themselves with chains in a symbolic expression of grief and regret for not being able to help Hussein before his martyrdom.

On Sunday night, thousands marched toward the holy shrine of Imam Hussein in Kerbala, which had been lit up on the eve of the celebration.

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