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Muslims mark first day of Hajj

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims from around the world have gathered in Saudi Arabia to take part in the world’s largest annual pilgrimage, the Hajj.

An estimated number of 2.5 million pilgrims arrived in Mecca this year to officially start their Hajj rituals by going to Mina on November 14, 2010, or the eighth day of Dhul Hijja, the last month on the lunar calendar.

Saudi authorities say they have granted permits to 1.7 million foreign pilgrims, with about 200,000 issued to pilgrims from Saudi Arabia and neighboring Arab states.

The Saudi government has set stricter rules and provided pilgrims with more facilities and better transportation systems, AFP reported.

Drivers transporting unauthorized pilgrims will be fined USD 2,667 for each individual, while vehicles with a capacity below 25 passengers are banned from entering Hajj sites.

The first phase of the new Mashair Railway, or Mecca metro, will transport pilgrims between Mina and Mount Arafat through Muzdalifah, which is located halfway between Mount Arafat and Mina, this year.

The Jamarat Bridge, where pilgrims perform the ritual stoning, has also been expanded to five levels with movement channeled in one direction.

This is while security issues are still worrying authorities.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said last Wednesday that he could not rule out the possibility of an al-Qaeda sabotage attempt.

Saudi King Abdullah has appointed his second deputy prime minister Prince Nayef to oversee the Hajj since he is resting due to a herniated disc.

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