Tunisian president sacks religious affairs minister amid hajj casualties

Tunisian president sacks religious affairs minister amid hajj casualties
Tunisia's minister of religious affairs was sacked by the country's president after dozens of Tunisians died at this year's Islamic hajj pilgrimage.
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Deaths during the pilgrimage have been confirmed by several countries [Getty]

Tunisian President Kais Saied on Friday sacked the minister of religious affairs, the presidency said in a statement, after 49 Tunisians were reported to have died so far in this year's hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

The president "decided to end the duties of Ibrahim Chaibi, the minister of religious affairs," the statement posted on Facebook said without giving any further details.

On Tuesday, the Tunisian foreign ministry reported the death of 35 Tunisian pilgrims, but the number has risen to 49 so far, according to Tunisian media.

The ministry didn't specify whether the deaths were related to high temperatures, adding that most of the dead had travelled to Saudi Arabia with tourist visas and outside of the Saudi government's official pilgrimage programme.

Each year, official permits are allocated to countries through a quota system and distributed to individuals via a lottery.

Even for those who can obtain them, the steep costs can make the irregular route - which costs thousands of dollars less - more attractive.

That has been especially true since 2019 when Saudi Arabia began issuing general tourist visas, making it easier to travel to the Gulf kingdom.

Deaths during the pilgrimage have also been confirmed by Malaysia, India, Jordan, Iran, Senegal, Tunisia, Sudan and Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region.

An AFP tally on Friday, compiling official statements and reports from diplomats involved in the response, put the toll at 1,126, more than half of them from Egypt.

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The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, must be completed by all Muslims with the means to at least once.

Saudi officials had earlier said 1.8 million pilgrims took part this year, a similar total to last year, and that 1.6 million came from abroad.

According to a Saudi study published last month, temperatures in the area are rising 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 degrees Fahrenheit) each decade.