Oct. 23 - Millions of pilgrims arrive in Mecca for Islam's annual haj pilgrimage amid regional turmoil, with Saudi authorities warning they will stop any disruptive protests over the Syrian conflict. Rough cut (no reporter narration).
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(ROUGH CUT ONLY - NO REPORTER NARRATION)
Millions of pilgrims arrive this week in Mecca for Islam's annual haj pilgrimage, which starts on Wednesday (October 24), with Saudi authorities warning they will stop any disruptive protests over the conflict in Syria.
The Grand Mosque, the focal point of the Islamic faith, was already teeming with joyful pilgrims at dawn on Monday (October 22), wearing the simple white folds of cloth prescribed for haj, many of them having slept on the white marble paving outside.
Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam. Able-bodied Muslims who can afford the pilgrimage must perform it once in their lifetime, and this is a duty that applies equally to Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims at a time of tension between Islam's main sects.
Saudi leaders have emphasised it is a strictly religious occasion and they are prepared to deal with any troublemaking.
"If anything happens it will be brought under control," Interior Minister Prince Ahmed said on Saturday (October 20) after attending a Mecca march-past where troops paraded water cannon, teargas launchers and even truck-mounted machine guns.
Authorities are keenly aware of past episodes of violence at haj, such as in 1979, when attackers seized the Grand Mosque, beginning a two-week siege that left hundreds dead.
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