The Hajj Board has begun distributing boarding passes to pilgrims who would undertake this year's pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The exercise began around 2.00 p.m., after the pilgrims,who had lodged at the Elwak Sports Stadium since December 31, 2004, had embarked on an illegal demonstration to establish their displeasure at the failure of the Hajj Board to facilitate their departure to Mecca.
A member of the Hajj Board, who arrived at the Elwak Sports Stadium under heavy police escort, gave the assurance that all paid-up pilgrims would be transported to Mecca. The member, who wanted to remain anonymous, said 360 pilgrims were expected to leave Accra last night after going through check in procedure at the stadium.
Customs, immigration, aviation and other officials had been detailed at the stadium to see to the check in procedures to enable the pilgrims to board a South African chartered aircraft later in the day.A Hajj agent, Alhaji Gariba Ibrahim, expressed his disappointment at the inability of the Hajj Board to apologise to the pilgrims for the inconvenience it had caused them.
According to him, the pilgrims, who had come from all over the regions in the country,should have been in Saudi Arabia by January 1, 2005.He further accused the Hajj Board of telling the pilgrims different stories each day, adding that all the pilgrims wanted was to be flown out of the country to begin their pilgrimage.
Earlier, there was heavy vehicular traffic on the Elwak-Burma Camp road when angry pilgrims and their families blocked both ends of the street to drum home their displeasure for being left unattended to by the Hajj Board. According to the pilgrims, they had run out of money and also there were inadequate basic facilities at the stadium like water.
Some of the pilgrims, who said they had paid ¢16 million each with an additional ¢450,000 for their luggage, alleged that they were manhandled by security personnel when they marched to the President's residence.
Scores of personnel from the Rapid Deployment Force of the Ghana Police Service, led by Chief Superintendent Kwadwo Oware, got to the scene to avert further lawless actions. They managed to bring the angry demonstrators under control and thus ensured free flow of traffic.
Mr Oware stated that the pilgrims had neither police permit to embark on the demonstration nor any right to block the road, adding that “we deployed the troops to disperse them and bring law and order.”He said the police would stay at the place to ensure that departure formalities as promised by the Hajj Board had begun, adding,“we will be here until the situation is brought under control.”