BEIJING - Fourteen people, some of them children, were killed and 10 injured in a stampede that broke out as food was being distributed at a mosque in China's Ningxia region, state media reported Monday.
The stampede occurred at lunchtime on Sunday while traditional food items were being handed out to people attending an event to commemorate a late religious leader, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing the local government.
The injured were hospitalised, with four in critical condition, the brief report said. One photo posted online by Chinese news outlets showed six bodies laid out side-by-side inside a building, with several children in colourful outfits among the dead. "Those poor children," wrote one poster. Ningxia is one of China's poorer regions, and other Internet users lamented its poverty.
"Are Chinese people so poor, for all this to happen over a piece of pastry?" asked one poster on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter. Another added: "The Chinese people's living conditions are so poor that they will do this for a few free cakes! Murder caused by a pie!"
Some Internet users displayed images of red candles online to commemorate those who died.
Others wondered what might have triggered such a large stampede. "It must be thoroughly investigated," said one.
Pictures posted online showed a large crowd, most of them men and many wearing white Islamic caps, standing outside the green mosque, apparently after the incident.
Clothes and shoes were scattered on the ground, along with what appeared to be a collapsed section of scaffolding.
An inquiry was under way into the cause of the stampede at the mosque in Xiji, around 280 kilometres (174 miles) south of the regional capital Yinchuan.
"The investigation is still underway. We have nothing to reveal," a man at the Xiji county police surnamed Wang told AFP.
According to NXNews.net, a regional news portal connected to the local authorities, at a meeting on Monday a Ningxia Communist Party committee "determined that the Xiji stampede was caused by poor organisation and insufficient supervision during a regular religious activity".
The committee said that "religious activities must be strictly managed, placing public safety above all else so as not to allow any life-threatening situations", NXNews.net added.
Ningxia, in northern China, is home to the Chinese-speaking Hui minority, who are mostly Muslim but distinct from the Uighurs of Xinjiang.
According to government statistics, the semi-desert region's six million Hui make up about 36 percent of its population, with Xiji one of the major Hui population centres.
Ningxia, on the upper reaches of the Yellow river, was the scene of a Muslim rebellion in the 19th century but has no recent history of ethnic tensions or other strife between the Hui and China's Han majority.
In contrast, restive Xinjiang, several hundred kilometres to the west, has seen several deadly clashes between Uighurs and security forces in recent months which authorities have blamed on separatist "terrorists".
Xiji is primarily an agricultural county whose main products include wheat, peas and potatoes.
Ningxia is renowned for its wines, some of which have beaten French vintages in blind tastings, and the industry has already attracted the likes of French luxury group LVMH, owner of Dom Perignon champagne among other brands.