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45 killed in stampede

By RICHARD S. EHRLICH

NEW DELHI, India -- A stampede of more than 400 screaming school children -- touched off when young men began sexually molesting women tourists during a blackout -- killed 45 people Friday in a human pileup on the winding steps of an ancient tower.

Police said 23 of the dead where children.

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At least 30 people -- mostly elementary school children as young as five -- were injured in the stampede down the narrow steps of the 234-foot tall Outab Minar tower, which moments before had been plunged into darkness by a power failure.

Survivors said panic erupted when a group of women tourists started pushing and shoving their way down the steps of the 13th Century tower, shouting they were being molested by the men in back of them.

Horrified screams resounded through the stone structure as hysteria seized the crowd of tourists and school children descending the circular stairs, which measured 3-feet-11-inches at the top and widening to 4-feet-9-inches at the bottom, witnesses said.

The bodies were sent to two hospitals where grief-striken parents gathered to search for their sons and daughters.

Inside the musty mortuary of the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, seven dead school boys lay sprawled on the floor with the word 'unknown' written across white bandages on their chests.

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Next door in the autopsy room, doctors huddled over two men.

As the body of one boy -- his eyes open and a smile on his face - was rolled out of the hospital's white rear doors, his father, standing nearby, collapsed on the ground in tears.

Prime Minister IndiraGandhi visited the hospitals and parliament adjourned for the day in mourning.

The tragedy was the worst accident in the history of the 781-year-old tower, built by the first sultan of Delhi, Qutab-Uddin-Aibak, to commemorate his victories in battle.

The tallest stone tower in New Delhi, it is now a tourist attraction and a place from which many unhappy lovers have leaped to their deaths in recent years.

It is now illegal for visitors to enter the monument without official guides, both because of the suicides and the fact that the tower's serpentine steps, dimly-lit and lined with intricately carved inscriptions from the Koran, are considered dangerous.

Begun in the year 1200, the Qutab Minar tower, standing in what is now a southern suburb of New Delhi, was built as a monument to Qutab-Uddin-Aibak, a former slave to one Mohammad Ghori.

When his master was slain in battle, Qutab-Uddin-Aibak took over the slave dynasty he once toiled under and vowed to build the tallest tower in India. He died before it was completed.

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