Kashmir: At least 12 killed in stampede at Hindu shrine

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At least 12 people have been killed and 15 injured in a stampede at a popular Hindu shrine in Indian-controlled Kashmir, officials said.

The crush in the early morning at the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine came as a thousands gathered to mark the start of the new year.

India's prime minister Narendra Modi offered condolences in a message on Twitter, saying he was "extremely saddened by the loss of lives".

Initial reports suggested an altercation between a group of devotees had led to the crush.

One eyewitness, who gave the name Mahesh, said: "Something happened near one of the gates and I found myself under a crush of people.

"I suffocated and fell but somehow managed to stand up.

"I saw people moving over the bodies.

"It was a horrifying sight, but I managed to help in rescuing some injured people."

Another devotee called Priyansh, who had arrived with ten friends from New Delhi on Friday night, said two of them died in the crush.

Police chief Dilbag Singh was quoted by Press Trust of India news agency as saying that authorities were quick to respond and that order within the crowd was immediately restored.

The pilgrimage resumed after nearly four hours, officials said, and an investigation was underway.

The hilltop temple is one of the most visited shrines in northern India.

The incident comes after a stampede in 2013 in central Madhya Pradesh state when pilgrims visiting a temple for a Hindu festival trampled over each other amid fears that a bridge would collapse, and at least 115 people were crushed to death or died in the river below.

In 2011, more than 100 Hindu devotees died in a crush at a religious festival in the southern state of Kerala.

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