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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Cambodia PM weeps for stampede dead

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Cambodia's prime minister Hun Sen weeps during a memorial service for victims of the stampede (AP)

Cambodia’s prime minister has wept at the spot where hundreds died during a wild riverside stampede, as the country began a day of mourning for victims.

Hun Sen’s tears came as he lit candles and incense at the narrow bridge where tens of thousands of festival-goers panicked, trampling hundreds underfoot, on Monday.

There has been confusion over the exact number of deaths. The latest official casualty tally from the incident was 347 dead and 395 injured, down from earlier official figures.

The premier was joined at the Bassac River in the capital Phnom Penh by his wife Bun Rany and cabinet members. Flags throughout the country were flying at half-mast and a Buddhist ceremony was being held.

A government investigation showed that as the suspension bridge swayed under the weight of thousands of revellers, some began to shout that the structure was going to collapse. Others pushed, heaved and even jumped off the span as a panic took hold that ended in the mass deaths.

The official probe into the accident continues with a final report expected next week, said Om Yentieng, a member of the investigating committee. He said earlier casualty figures were not correct due to overlapping of counts by various institutions.

Hun Sen described the stampede as the biggest tragedy since the communist Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, which killed an estimated 1.7 million people in the late 1970s.

During the day of mourning, the tourism ministry asked all entertainment venues, including karaoke parlours, nightclubs, beer gardens and discos, to close for the day.

The stampede happened during celebrations of a three-day holiday marking the end of the monsoon season, when as many as two million people were believed to have come to the capital.

As festivities wrapped up on Monday night, tens of thousands flocked to a free concert on an island in the Bassac River. An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people were streaming over a bridge that connects the island to the mainland when it began to sway, according to Banyon TV, which serves as a mouthpiece for the government and was citing the investigation committee.

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