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Tuesday, October 15, 2013 (All day)
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Outrage in India as temple stampede toll mounts

Indian Police and bystanders gather on a bridge where Hindu devotees were crushed in a stampede outside the Ratangarh Temple at Datia district in central Madhya Pradesh State on October 13. AFP

INDIA: Outrage mounted in India Monday after at least 115 devotees were crushed to death or drowned near a Hindu temple, the site of another deadly stampede only seven years ago. As survivors of Sunday's tragedy on a bridge recounted how desperate mothers threw their children into the water below, authorities came under fire over policing levels amid claims the panic was aggravated by baton-charging.

Medics were also battling to save the lives of 10 people classified as critically ill after the disaster in the town of Ratangarh in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

"The death toll has now gone up to 115 and more than 110 injured," deputy police inspector general D. K. Arya told AFP.

"Ten of those are in a very critical state." An AFP journalist at the site said the operation to recover the bodies had been finished and police investigators were now scouring the site. The tragedy cast a long shadow over celebrations marking the end of one of the holiest festivals in the Hindu calendar.

Police said the panic had been sparked by rumours that the bridge was about to collapse. Up to 400,000 devotees were already inside or around the temple when the stampede took place while there were around 20,000 people on the bridge which spans the river Sindh.

Large crowds began converging on the site from early morning, according to witnesses, on the penultimate day of the nine-day Navaratri festival which is dedicated to the worship of the Hindu goddess Durga. Manoj Sharma, one of the survivors, described a scene of utter mayhem.

"People were jumping off the bridge to save themselves, but they could not swim against the tide. I also saw children being tossed from the bridge, only to be washed away," he told the Times of India. Uma Shankar Gupta, the state's home minister, said authorities had not yet determined why the stampede had broken out, but downplayed suggestions that security was inadequate. "There were safety measures in place, this is an annual event," he told reporters. "We don't yet have information on how this happened, as our focus is on the rescue effort." Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led the condolences for the victims.

"On this day of festivities, our hearts and prayers are with the victims and their families," Singh said in a statement.

AFP