24 killed in stampede in Indian holy city of Varanasi

Twenty-four people were killed and four injured in a stampede at a religious gathering on the outskirts of the Indian holy city of Varanasi, police said on Saturday.

At least 15 women were among those who died in the crush as people tried to cross a bridge over the Ganges river, Uttar Pradesh state police chief Javeed Ahmad said.

The dead and injured belonged to the controversial Jai Gurudev sect, which was in the news in June when 22 of its members died in clashes with police in Mathura, another Hindu holy town in northern India.

The sect leaders had organized a procession of its followers from Varanasi to their hermitage in Chandauli across the narrow Rajghat bridge, inspector general of police Hari Om Sharma said.

The organizers had sought permission for a gathering of 5,000 people but thousands more joined the procession, Sharma said.

The stampede occurred as the road narrowed near the bridge and there was a sudden rush due to rumours that the bridge was about to collapse, NDTV news channel reported citing eyewitnesses.

Varanasi is a crowded temple town with bathing ghats and crematoriums along the bank that are believed to date back over 3,000 years. It draws huge numbers of pilgrims through the year.

Several religious groups like Jai Gurudev have bases in and around the city, which is also Prime Minister Narendra Modi's parliamentary constituency.

The group was founded by the late Baba Jai Gurudev, a religious leader who claimed to be a follower of the 20th century freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose, who raised an army to oust the British rulers.

In postings on social media, the group's followers describe themselves as political and social revolutionaries and its demands include the abolition of elections and cheaper fuel for everyone, broadcaster NDTV had reported.

Last update: Sat, 15/10/2016 - 16:46
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