12 Sudanese haj hopefuls die in wall collapse: Witnesses

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AFP) - Twelve Sudanese were killed on Sunday when a wall collapsed as thousands crowded to submit their applications for the annual haj pilgrimage, witnesses said.

More than 4,000 had gathered at a government office in Gedaref town, south-east of the capital Khartoum, said one witness who asked to remain anonymous.

"There was a big crowd and all of them tried to go inside to apply. As a result of this the wall came down and four people died immediately. There were four women and eight men," the witness said.

He added that some residents shouted in anger at government officials, blaming them for forcing people into a small area.

Official television reported that 12 people died during the wall collapse.

Another witness Ahmed Hashim told Agence France-Presse that the victims were crushed by the exterior brick wall, a type of fence, which suddenly collapsed outside the government office.

"A group of people had come to submit their applications for the haj," said Mr Hashim, a shopkeeper near the accident site.

The haj pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be performed at least once in a lifetime by those who are able to make the journey to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.

This year's haj takes place in October.