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11 killed in stampede for food aid in Pakistan

Men mourn the death of relative, who was killed along with others in a stampede at a distribution site for food aid in Karachi. - Reuters
Men mourn the death of relative, who was killed along with others in a stampede at a distribution site for food aid in Karachi. - Reuters

KARACHI: Eleven people were killed in a stampede during the distribution of food aid in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi on Friday, a health official said, one of several such incidents in recent weeks as the country's economic crisis bites.

The dead included five women and three children, police said, while five other people were hospitalised following the incident, which occurred at a charity-run distribution site set up at a local factory.

Thousands of people have gathered at flour distribution centres set up across the country, some as part of a government-backed programme to ease the impact of inflation, which is running above 30 per cent, a 50-year high.

At least five other people have been killed and several injured in recent weeks at sites in other provinces in Pakistan. Thousands of bags of flour have also been looted from trucks and distribution points, according to official records.

The stampedes underscore people's desperation in the face of soaring costs, exacerbated by Pakistan's falling currency and a removal of subsidies agreed with the International Monetary Fund to unlock the latest tranche of its financial support packages.

The costs of basic goods have surged, with flour prices rising more than 45 per cent in the past year.

The Pakistani government has launched the flour distribution programme to reach millions of families in need during Ramadhan that began last week.

"Dozens of people got injured in the stampede at a private charity,"Muhammad Bilal, a spokesperson for rescue service Edhi said.

The number of dead is feared to increase, he said.

Local police said they were not informed about the ration distribution and that no arrangements were made to deal with the emergency situation.

Geo TV reported that at least seven people had been arrested for investigations.

Several similar incidents have at government-backed free flour distribution points have been reported in recent weeks.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced free flour for millions of Pakistanis during the holy month to mitigate their economic woes amid record-breaking high inflation.

Pakistan has been facing a deepening political crisis since former Prime Minister Imran Khan was removed in a vote of no confidence last year. The political instability has worsened the country's ailing economy which on the verge of collapse.

Pakistan is seeking the revival of a $7-billion bailout package that was agreed upon in 2019, but has been suspended several times over Islamabad's inability to meet the conditions. - AFP/dpa

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