At least 20 people, including five children, have been killed in a stampede during a church service at a stadium in Tanzania.
Some 16 others were also injured in the crush as hundreds of worshippers rushed to walk on “blessed oil” at the prayer meeting in the northern town of Moshi, near the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.
The event had been organised by pastor Boniface Mwamposa, a popular preacher who heads a church called the Arise and Shine Ministry Tanzania.
Mr Mwamposa has been arrested, according to the authorities.
He had been drawing huge crowds by promising prosperity and a cure for illness to the faithful who passed over what he describes as “anointed oil”, poured on the ground during his services.
Peter Kilewo, who witnessed the stampede, said it was “horrible”, telling the AFP news agency that members of the congregation were “trampled on mercilessly”.
Authorities fear the number of dead could rise due to the size of the crowd and because it was dark at the time.
Moshi district commissioner Kippi Warioba said: “Twenty people died and 16 others were injured in the incident.”
Five of those killed were children, he said.
“The stampede occurred when the worshippers were rushing to get anointed with blessed oil,” Mr Warioba added.
He went on: “The incident took place at night and there were many people, so there is a possibility that more casualties could emerge. We are still assessing the situation.”
Tanzania has seen a rise in the number of “prosperity gospel” pastors in recent years, who promise to lift people out of poverty and perform what they call miracle cures.
Thousands of people in the nation of 55 million flock to Pentecostal churches, whose main source of income is “tithe”, the 10% or so of income that worshippers are asked to contribute.
In the wake of the tragedy, Tanzania’s interior minister George Simbachawene said the government was to review the law with a view to bring in tougher rules for registering a church.
He accused the church of not taking enough safety precautions and breaking the terms of its permit for the meeting.
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