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Radio France Internationale
Radio France Internationale
Michael Fitzpatrick

Yemen stampede during Ramadan charity distribution kills at least 85

Belongings strewn on the ground in the wake of the panic. AP

At least 85 people were killed and over 300 injured in a crush at a charity distribution event in Yemen on Thursday. Hundreds of people gathered at a school in the capital Sanaa to receive cash handouts ahead of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday which marks the end of the Ramadan fast.

At least "85 were killed and more than 322 were injured" in the stampede in the Bab al-Yemen district of the capital, a security official said, adding that around 50 were in a serious condition.

"Women and children were among the dead," he told the AFP news agency. A second health official confirmed the toll.

The interior ministry said the dead and injured have been moved to hospitals, and those responsible for the event arrested.

Video broadcast by Al Masirah TV channel showed a cluster of bodies packed together, with people climbing on top of each other to try to make their way through.

Armed men in military uniform and distribution workers screamed at the crowd to turn back as they tried to pull people out of the crush.

People packed into a narrow street

According to the head of the Huthis' Supreme Revolutionary Committee, Mohamed Ali al-Huthi, "overcrowding" caused the stampede.

People were packed in a narrow street leading to the school's back entrance, he said.

Once the gates opened, the crowd streamed into a tight staircase leading to the courtyard where the distribution was taking place.

Eyewitnesses, however, said that gunfire caused people to rush in a panic.

After the stampede, families converged on hospitals but many were not allowed to enter while officials were also visiting the dead and wounded.

An AFP correspondent in Sanaa saw large crowds outside one hospital entrance.

At the school, security forces prevented relatives from entering the facility to locate family members.

Committee formed to investigate tragedy

The Huthi rebel's political chief Mahdi al-Mashat said a committee had been formed to investigate the tragedy.

A Huthi security official said three people had been detained on suspicion of involvement.

More than eight years of civil war in Yemen have provoked what the United Nations describes as one of the world's worst humanitarian tragedies.

At least 22 million people, two-thirds of Yemen's population, need humanitarian assistance

The conflict began in 2014 when Iran-backed Huthi rebels seized Sanaa, prompting a Saudi-led coalition to interveneto prop up the internationally recognised government.

Hundreds of thousands have died in the war.

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