Fear of bridge collapse set of Cambodia stampede

Though typical, the movement of the bridge terrified the festival goers, many of whom were in Phnom Penh from the provinces for the end of rainy season and were unfamiliar with such bridges, city police Chief Touch Naroth said today, citing a government investigation he took part in.

"People became panicked when they saw other people fall down, and they started running when they heard cries that the bridge was going to collapse," Touch Naroth told AP Television News. The police chief shared details of the probe, though an official report has not been released.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said today the official death toll was 351 dead with 395 injured. But casualty figures have been a matter of confusion, with officials saying yesterday that at least 755 people were hurt before walking that number back. The Ministry of Social Welfare, for instance, is now citing two death tolls: one, based on data collected from hospitals in the capital, that is similar to the official figure, and another, 456, based on reports collected from provincial officials.

The discrepancy could stem from the fact that friends or relatives took victims' bodies home before their deaths could be registered. Prime Minister Hun Sen described the stampede as the biggest tragedy since the communist Khmer Rouge's reign of terror, which killed an estimated 1.7 million people in the late 1970s. He declared a day of national mourning for Thursday.

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