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The hajj in Mecca attracts millions Muslim pilgrims to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is welcoming Muslims from around the globe for one of the world's largest annual gatherings as the ancient hajj ritual begins. This year's pilgrimage has wide political significance.

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Hajj pilgrimage gets underway in Saudi Arabia

Almost two million Muslims from around the world on Wednesday descended on Islam's holiest site Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj pilgrimage.

As one of the five pillars of Islam, every able-bodied Muslim of appropriate financial means is required to complete the five-day ritual at least once in their lifetime.

Political significance I: In a shrewd political move, the Saudi king will grant visas to pilgrims from major rival Qatar and will pay their costs.

Political significance II: Iranian pilgrims will return this year after a one-year hiatus. Iran abstained after a deadly stampede in 2015 and a diplomatic row over the execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia.

The terrorism threat: More than 100,000 security personnel have been deployed after several terrorist cells were dismantled this year.

A history of accidents: Authorities assure pilgrims they have measures in place to avoid a repeat of the 2015 stampede that killed more than 2,000 people and the 2006 stampede that killed more than 300 people

aw,sa/rt (AP, AFP, dpa)

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