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Kazakhs To Make Hajj While Turkmen Will Stay Home

ASTANA -- Some 2,000 Kazakhs are planning to go on the hajj -- the holy pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia -- despite the swine flu epidemic, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Ongar-Haji Omirbek, a spokesman for the Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Kazakhstan, told RFE/RL that the first group of Kazakhs left for Saudi Arabia on October 20, while a mass departure is expected on November 11.

Omirbek said a swine-flu vaccination is compulsory for all Kazakh hajj participants. But a tourist agency worker who organizes hajj pilgrimages told RFE/RL that Kazakhs going to Mecca will only get a vaccine against ordinary flu.

A Kazakh Health Ministry spokesman told RFE/RL that a swine-flu vaccine has not yet arrived. He said the World Health Organization told the ministry that the vaccine is still being tested.

There have been 17 confirmed swine-flu cases in Kazakhstan so far. Meanwhile, in Turkmenistan, authorities have banned people from making the hajj this year, even though swine flu has not been detected in the country.

RIA-Novosti reported earlier that some 200 Turkmen will have to make do visiting Islamic holy sites that are in Turkmenistan instead of going to Mecca.

In Uzbekistan, some 5,000 people are expected to go to Saudi Arabia this year for the hajj. An Uzbek Muslims Committee spokesperson told RFE/RL that virologists will accompany them and they will be vaccinated in advance of the trip.

In Tajikistan, some 5,000 Tajiks are expected to make the hajj, though Tajik officials said they have not yet purchased any swine-flu medicine.

Marataly Ajy Jumanov, Kyrgyzstan's mufti, told RFE/RL that hajj visitors will be given a compulsory swine-flu vaccination and that a special center for pilgrims has been established in the country. He said some 4,500 Kyrgyz are expected to make the hajj.