Saudi Arabia set for haj despite Mers virus fears
MECCA (AFP) - Saudi Arabia is gearing up for next week's hajj with scores of pilgrims set to miss the world's largest annual gathering over construction work and fears about a deadly virus.
Last year, a total of 3.2 million faithful, including 1.75 million foreigners, performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam's holiest site. Those from abroad came from 190 countries.
This year, Riyadh expects about two million, after the ultra-conservative kingdom announced a crackdown on illegal pilgrims and imposed restrictions to cut foreigners by 20 per cent and Saudis by 50 per cent.
About 1.17 million pilgrims had already entered the Gulf state by Saturday, according to immigration officials, and more are expected before Thursday's deadline for people to arrive before the hajj starts.