x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Saudi Arabia to cut this year's Haj pilgrim numbers

Kingdom cuts the number of people that may perform pilgrimage because of construction work aimed at expanding Mecca, Haj minister says.

RIYADH // Saudi Arabia has cut back the number of pilgrims that may perform Haj this year because of construction work aimed at expanding Mecca, said Bandar Hajjar, the Haj minister.

The authorities had decided to reduce by half the number of pilgrims coming from within Saudi Arabia and by about 20 per cent those from abroad, Mr Hajjar said.

"This is an exceptional and temporary decision," he said.

Some 3.1 million pilgrims performed Haj last year, most of them from abroad.

Mr Hajjar said the expansion of the Grand Mosque in Mecca would add 400,000 square metres, raising its capacity to accommodate 2.2 million people.

The mosque houses the Kaaba, the cube-shaped structure towards which Muslims worldwide pray.

The decision comes also as Saudi Arabia battles the spread of the Mers virus, which has killed 28 people in the kingdom since September out of 33 victims worldwide.

This year Haj falls in October.