1.6 million Muslim pilgrims flood into Mecca for haj
MECCA (AFP) - Muslim pilgrims have been descending in droves on Mecca for the haj, the world's largest annual gathering which Saudi Arabia insists will not be affected by instability shaking the region.
Walking in groups, mostly led by guides with their countries' flags printed on their garments, faithful men and women have poured into Mecca to perform the minor pilgrimage, or umrah, ahead of the major haj rituals.
Officials say the main events, which begin on Wednesday, are expected to attract more than two million devotees from across the world.
Thursday marks the most important day, when all pilgrims assemble in the Arafat plain outside Mecca. The pilgrimage ends after Eid Al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, which will be celebrated on Friday.