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Millions of Muslims gather for prayer

At least four million Muslims attended prayers on Sunday near the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka at the climax of the largest annual Islamic event after the hajj, police said.

world Updated: Jan 24, 2010 15:53 IST

At least four million Muslims attended prayers on Sunday near the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka at the climax of the largest annual Islamic event after the hajj, police said.

The three-day Bishwa Ijtema, or World Muslim Congregation, concluded after an Indian imam led final prayers with devotees filling every open space, rooftops and miles (kilometres) of roads leading to the congregation site.

The gathering, at which Muslims pray and listen to religious scholars, was first held in the 1960s on the banks of the Turag river and was launched by Tablig Jamaat, a non-political group that urges people to follow Islam in their daily lives.

Police inspector Mamun Hasan said at least four million people, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, attended the event.

"This year a record number of people have turned up due to better weather," Hasan said, adding security had been tight with more than 10,000 police on guard.

Police said 25,000 foreigners from around 110 countries attended the event but that most of the worshipers were poor rural Bangladeshis who equate the event to the hajj, the pilgrimage to Islam's birthplace, Mecca.

Dhaka was deserted on Sunday as many residents left their jobs -- Sunday is a working day in Bangladesh -- and headed to the venue, 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of the city.

The government arranged special trains and ferries, while army engineers set up dozens of makeshift bridges and water tanks.

Bangladesh is the world's third-largest Muslim-majority nation, with Muslims making up nearly 90 percent of its 144 million population.