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Rouhani Cutting UN Trip Short to Honor Hajj Stampede Victims

by VOA News September 28, 2015

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani will depart New York for Tehran on Monday, cutting short his visit for the U.N. General Assembly meetings so that he can take part in a ceremony for the Iranians killed in a stampede during the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Some 169 Iranians have been confirmed dead among the 769 killed last week outside the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. More than 300 Iranians remain missing.

Rouhani is scheduled to give a speech before the General Assembly on Monday morning. Iran's mission to the U.N. says Rouhani has canceled some of his sideline meetings at the event in order to depart for home in the afternoon.

On Sunday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded Saudi Arabia apologize for the stampede.

'What we should conclude is that the responsibility for this grave incident and great tragedy lies with the rulers of Saudi Arabia. They should take responsibility for the issue,' Khamenei said in a statement posted on his website.

Iranians protested Sunday outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran for a third straight day.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir accused Iran of politically exploiting the tragedy.

Iran has accused the Saudis of 'crimes' and incompetence, and vowed to take legal action in international courts. Iranian leaders said Saudi Arabia is no longer capable of managing an event that draws more than 2 million people each year.

Iran's state prosecutor, Ebrahim Raisi, said Saudi Arabia's poor management of the crowds of pilgrims amounted to criminal acts 'under international law.' Speaking on state television in Iran, he repeated an unconfirmed story contending that local authorities caused the fatal crowding by diverting pilgrims away from a road that was being used by a convoy of the Saudi royal family.

Pilgrims have blamed the stampede on police road closures and poor management.

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