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India rally stampede 'kills 21'

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Twenty-one women have died in a stampede at a birthday celebration rally for an Indian politician in the city of Lucknow, local officials say.

Thousands had gathered in a park for the birthday rally of Lalji Tandon, state leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party in northern Uttar Pradesh state.

Local officials said people had rushed for the handout of free saris.

Premier Atal Behari Vajpayee, who is contesting Lucknow in forthcoming elections, will visit the scene soon.

Suddenly there was tremendous pressure from all sides... All I could hear was loud screams

Shashi Yadav, witness

About 15,000 people had crammed into the small park, which was fenced in and covered by a tent.

One woman attending, Ketaki Devi, told the Associated Press news agency: "We came with the hope that we would hear [Mr Tandon's] speech. He celebrated his birthday and gave us death. I saw several women fall down. They didn't get up."

One of the organisers, Brijendra Yadav, said: "We tried to stop the distribution but before we could, everything went haywire and old women were trampled to death."

Local doctors said 28 people had been injured.

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