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Kyrgyz Pilgrims 'Stranded For Weeks' In Middle East

About 2,500 Muslims from Kyrgyzstan took part in this year's pilgrimage to Mecca.
BISHKEK -- Some 200 Kyrgyz Muslims who hoped to take part in the hajj last month are stranded along Saudi Arabia's border with the United Arab Emirates, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reports.

Kyrgyz State Committee on Religious Issues spokesman Kumar Duishonbaev told journalists in Bishkek today that the would-be pilgrims, who chose to travel by bus to Mecca last month for the hajj, were not allowed to enter Saudi Arabia as their entrance visas stipulated that they may only enter the country by air.

Some of them reportedly had forged Saudi visas.

Duishonbaev quoted Yusup Baltabaev, the chief of the center for coordination of the hajj for Kyrgyz Muslims in Saudi Arabia, as saying that seven buses with Kyrgyz Muslims were stopped and impounded by the Saudi border guards.

Duishonbaev said the passengers were arrested, questioned, and then released. He did not say when, or specify what had stopped the group from returning to Kyrgyzstan.

It's the first such statement from Kyrgyz officials about the situation.

The hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, is one of the five pillars of Islam. It took place this year in mid-November. About 2,500 Muslims from Kyrgyzstan took part.

Read more in Kyrgyz here