Preacher who led India religious event that killed more than 120 is investigated

(Copyright by World Economic Forum / Valeriano Di Domenico)Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India during the Opening of the Annual Meeting 2018 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 23, 2018.

A crowd crush at a religious gathering in northern India that killed more than 120 people, mostly women, was one of the deadliest such incidents the country has seen in recent years.

Many of the scores killed on July 2 had fallen into an open sewer next to the venue, CNN reported.

Police are investigating the organizers. They say a quarter of a million people arrived at the venue, more than three times the number expected, and just a few dozen police officers had been deployed.

The preacher who led the overcrowded prayer meeting has denied blame and pledged to cooperate with the police investigation, the BBC reported Jan. 4.

According to a lawyer for the self-styled "godman" who led the event known as Bhole Baba, the crush occurred "due to some anti-social elements" and blamed a "criminal conspiracy hatched against" his client, the BBC reported.

The disaster happened at a prayer meeting, known as a satsang, in Mughal Garhi village in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state.

The Hathras district village is around 200 kilometers (124 miles) southeast of the national capital, New Delhi.

At least 121 people died, and 35 others were injured, Sandeep Singh, the Minister of State for Education, told reporters, after a large number of people rushed to touch Bhole Baba's feet, leading to a crush.

Virtually all those killed were women, Singh said earlier, and there were at least seven children among the dead.

The tragedy sparked outrage in India, triggering questions about a lack of security measures.

Singh denied reports that security guards at the festival triggered panic by pushing away people who tried to get Bhole Baba's blessing.

"Totally false allegation," Singh told the BBC. "Security staff always provide help to the followers."

The crush occurred in Pulrai village, where Bhole Baba held a religious gathering.

Police said that officials initially had granted permission for 80,000 people to attend, but around 250,000 people attended the event.

The report says the chaos began as the preacher drove off.

Eyewitnesses said people lost their footing and started falling on top of each other as hundreds rushed towards the preacher as he was leaving the venue.

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