Tunisia sacks religious affairs minister amid Hajj casualties

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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.

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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 program.

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

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

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.

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