LUCKNOW (India) • A stampede at a religious gathering in northern India yesterday killed at least 24 people as thousands of devotees of a controversial guru tried to cross a bridge at the same time, police said.
The followers of Jai Gurudev, the leader of a local religious sect, had gathered on the outskirts of Varanasi, a Hindu holy town in Uttar Pradesh state, when the stampede occurred.
Police in the state capital, Lucknow, said 24 people had died in the incident.
Two police officers at the scene said that about 50 people had been injured and that officials were now struggling to deter pilgrims from entering a religious site near the bridge.
"We are deploying over 100 police officers to control the crowd. People are in a state of panic," said policeman Ravi Tyagi.
State police chief Javeed Ahmed blamed overcrowding on the ageing iron bridge for the disaster.
"They had sought permission for 5,000 persons, but many more people reached and joined the procession," Mr Ahmed told India's NDTV news network. "They were crossing a bridge when some rumour-mongering happened, which led to the disaster."
A witness told reporters: "There was a lot of chaos, all of us were pushed and shoved. Many people have died including my mother."
State Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav ordered an inquiry into the incident while announcing monetary compensation for the victims.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was saddened by the loss of life. "I have spoken to officials & asked them to ensure all possible help to those affected due to the stampede in Varanasi," he said in a tweet.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS