Turkey's Erdogan defends Saudis after Mecca tragedy

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defended Saudi Arabia over Thursday's hajj tragedy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defended Saudi Arabia over Thursday's hajj tragedy (AFP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Ankara (AFP) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to Saudi Arabia's defence on Friday as blame shifted towards the Saudi authorities after a stampede at the hajj pilgrimage killed at least 717 people.

"I do not sympathise with the hostile statements against Saudi Arabia," Erdogan told journalists.

The Turkish leader said that it would be wrong to "point a finger at Saudi Arabia which does its best", to make the annual hajj pilgrimage possible.

"You have to see the glass as half full," he said, adding that each country suffers failures.

The holy pilgrimage has been particularly deadly this year. On September 11, a crane fell at Mecca's Grand Mosque, killing 109 people.

Then on Thursday at least 717 people were killed, and several hundred more injured in the worst tragedy to strike the annual Muslim pilgrimage in a quarter-century.

Earlier Friday, a leader from Turkey's ruling party said Turkey could better organise the hajj if it had the opportunity.

"If Turkey was charged with organising the hajj, we would make sure that nobody suffered any harm," Mehmet Ali Sahin, vice-president of the country's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), told Dogan news agency.

Iranian leaders have been deeply critical of the Saudi authorities over what they charge were flawed safety measures that led to Thursday's tragedy.

"Saudi Arabia is incapable of organising the pilgrimage," said Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, leading the main weekly Muslim prayers in Tehran.

"The running of the hajj must be handed over to Islamic states," he said.