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Fire at Saudi Wedding Kills 37

July 30, 1999

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ A tent caught fire at a pre-wedding party in eastern Saudi Arabia and collapsed on guests, killing 37 women and children and wounding 132 people, newspapers reported today.

The fire broke out Wednesday night in a tent crowded with women and children attending a henna party, which is held a day before the actual wedding, the Al-Jazeera newspaper said.

The ceremony was being held in the eastern city of al-Qatif, about 250 miles northeast of the capital, Riyadh, when the burning tent collapsed on the guests, the newspaper said.

The dead included 20 children and 17 women, Al Jazeera said, adding that the wounded, some of them in critical condition, were rushed to 14 hospitals in the area.

It did not say if the bride was among the victims. It was not clear what caused the fire, but the newspaper said it was believed to have been due to a malfunction in an air conditioning unit.

Women are usually separated from men in parties in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest shrines of Mecca and Medina.

Henna parties, which are attended by women only, are part of wedding festivities in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf region, where artisans decorate the bride’s hands and feet.

``I pay my condolences to every person in this nation,″ Al Jazeera quoted Crown Prince Abdullah as saying. ``May God’s mercy be upon our martyrs,″ said Abdullah, who is also acting ruler of the kingdom while King Fahd is on a summer vacation in Spain.

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