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Iran leader threatens 'fierce' reaction if Saudi does not return Hajj dead

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened a “fierce” reaction Wednesday if Saudi Arabia does not quickly repatriate victims of last week’s hajj stampede.

“Saudi officials are failing to do their duties,” Khamenei said in a speech to graduating navy officers following delays in the return of more than 200 Iranian bodies. “If Iran wants to react… our response will be fierce.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Iran summoned the Saudi envoy to demand the swift identification and repatriation of the bodies of Iranian pilgrims killed in a stampede at the hajj last week.

President Hassan Rouhani had cut short a visit to New York to fly home to attend a repatriation ceremony scheduled for Tuesday but the return of the first bodies was delayed.

The foreign ministry’s consular affairs director, Ali Chegini, called on Saudi Arabia to speed up the process of identifying the remaining bodies of those killed in last Thursday’s crush outside Mecca.

A total of 239 Iranians have been killed, according to a new toll given Wednesday, but six days after the tragedy, many bodies have yet to be identified.

Iran fears 241 of its nationals who are unaccounted for may be among them.

It was the fourth time that the foreign ministry had summoned the Saudi charge d’affaires over the disaster in which at least 769 pilgrims were killed and hundreds more injured.

Iran, the region’s foremost Shiite state, has been deeply critical of its Sunni rival Saudi Arabia, accusing it of serious safety lapses at the hajj.

In New York on Monday, Rouhani called for “an independent and precise investigation into the causes of this disaster and ways of preventing its repetition”.

He urged Saudi Arabia to allow immediate consular access to quickly identify the bodies and ensure their return home.

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