Yemen stampede: At least 78 killed in surge for Ramadan donations

At least 78 people were killed in a stampede in the Yemeni capital Sanaa as residents gathered at a school to receive cash donations distributed by merchants during Ramadan, witnesses and the Houthi administration said on Thursday, Reuters reported.

Hundreds of people crowded to receive the alms, which amounted to 5,000 Yemeni riyals, or about $9 per person, two witnesses involved in the rescue effort told Reuters.

“When the door opened, there was a big rush by people wanting to reach the school yard first and some people began falling on the steps leading to the entrance,” one medic said.

Two thirds of the population need help in the war-torn country, which was impoverished even before the conflict erupted eight years ago.

The Houthi health ministry said 77 people were injured, including 13 in a critical condition, in the charge that occurred during the distribution of the cash collected in the final days of the Muslim fasting holy month before the Eid al Fitr festivities.

Mohamed Ali al-Houthi, head of the group’s supreme revolutionary committee, said on Twitter that merchants had gathered “several days'” worth of registered individuals to distribute aid to at one go at a school, the entrance to which is off a narrow road with steps leading up to the gate.

A video posted by Houthi television on Telegram messaging app showed a crowd of people jammed together, some screaming and shouting and reaching out to be pulled to safety. Security staff fought to push people back and control the crowd.

Another video after the stampede showed scores of discarded shoes, a crutch and clothing on the steps of the building, and forensic investigators in protective white suits sorting through personal belongings.

‘GREAT TRAGEDY’

The two merchants responsible for organising the donation event had been detained and an investigation was under way, the interior ministry said.

“We are experiencing a great tragedy, a large number of our citizens have died during this stampede,” said Abdulaziz Bin Habtour, the prime minister of the Houthi movement, de facto authorities in north Yemen.

In remarks published by the group’s media centre, he said measures would be taken to “find a serious solution so it does not happen again”. The president of the supreme judicial council said the necessary legal measures would be taken.

Yemen has been mired in an eight-year conflict that pits a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia against the Iran-aligned Houthi group. The war has killed tens of thousands of people, wrecked the economy and pushed millions into hunger.

The United Nation’s World Food Programme feeds 13 million in Yemen but funding shortfalls have reduced its activities.

An expired U.N.-brokered truce has delivered a year of relative calm, the longest stretch in the conflict, and Saudi Arabia and the Houthis are engaged in talks in parallel to U.N. efforts to establish a permanent ceasefire.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis months after the group ousted the internationally recognised government from Sanaa. The conflict has widely been seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Riyadh and Tehran in March agreed to restore diplomatic ties severed in 2016 and prisoner exchanges this month between the two sides have raised hopes of a resolution to the conflict.

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