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Faith Nyasuguta 

About 29 people, including 11 children and an expectant woman, are dead following a stampede at an open-air Pentecostal church service in Liberia.

The gathering – dubbed a crusade – was being held in a densely populated beachside area of the capital, Monrovia.

According to the Police, street gang members entered the prayer ground on Wednesday night after a collection had been completed as the event was ending, sparking panic.

Witnesses indicated that some of them were armed with knives and one person had been nabbed.

Hundreds of people were gathered at the crusade in Monrovia’s New Kru Town suburb, organized by a renowned pastor, Apostle Abraham Kromah.

The preacher runs a church dubbed the Word of Life Outreach International, alongside a radio station. His followers believe that he is able to heal and aid people through his prayers.

After a fatal stampede at a Christian gathering, people gather at Redemption Hospital in New Kru Town outside Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, on Jan. 20. (Augustine D Wallace/AP)

While speaking to the BBC, police spokesman Moses Carter said the preacher was being questioned to aid the officers with their inquiries.

He revealed that the bodies of those who had died in the crush had been taken to the morgue at a nearby hospital, Redemption Hospital.

Liberian President George Weah visited the crusade ground, a school football pitch, and declared three days of national mourning.

He directed that be put in place to ensure similar services are held in a safe environment.

The Red Cross has erected tents in the grounds for family members to go with photos to help identify the dead.

In the West African nation, christian crusade prayer services are often held during evenings – often starting at about 6pm, when people finish work, and ending at about 10pm

The services are popular with hundreds of people often in attendance as many seek help and comfort in a nation where around half the population lives on less than $2 a day.

In 2022, Liberia is still dealing with the legacy of a civil war that officially ended in 2003.  Thousands of child soldiers were forced to fight.

In recent years attacks by street gangs have become increasingly common in Liberian cities. Other crises such as the Ebola epidemic and the impact of coronavirus lockdowns have also affected unemployment.

Residents look at shoes of the injured and departed. /Courtesy/
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Faith Nyasuguta