Taliban chase away people celebrating Persian new year

AFP, March 20, 2000

KABUL, March 20 (AFP) - Afghanistan's ruling Taliban Monday dispersed thousands of people as they gathered to celebrate the first day of Persian solar new year, an activity banned by the Islamic militia.

The Taliban has declared celebration of Nawroz as un-Islamic.

Soldiers armed with machineguns and leather lashes chased away the crowd which had assembled around a hilltop in the capital's northern Khair Khana area.

They beat the people, hurled stones at them and occasionally shot into the air to prevent them from entering a nearby cemetery, the main venue for marking the event in the thickly-populated part of Kabul.

The locals, mostly young boys, retaliated by throwing stones at the Taliban soldiers.

At Sakhi shrine, Kabul's southern venue for the celebrations, the religious police also dispersed thousands, including women, by beating them with leather lashes.

A group of armed and bearded soldiers entered the old cemetery and started threatening and lashing people.

The crowd scattered but many returned when the police left after 10 minutes after announcing on a loudspeaker that it was "anti-Islamic to mark Nawroz or to visit the cemeteries."

Merry-go-rounds and swings, which stopped when the police raided the area, resumed functioning as vendors sold refreshments and typical wooden toys.

In this part of town, which has been totally destroyed by the Afghan factional fighting, the people were allowed early in the day to perform their rituals, but not under the name of Nawroz.

The standard of the Sakhi shrine was taken out and raised in the front yard with hundreds of devotees rushing to pay their respects by kissing the tall flag wrapped up in colourful cloth.

The Taliban ministry for promotion of virtue and prevention of vice, popularly known as the religious police, on Sunday issued a warning to the public not to celebrate Nawroz, terming it "a vice" under Islamic Sharia law.

The Persian solar year was Afghanistan's official calendar until two years ago, when the Taliban fundamentalists enforced the Islamic lunar calendar.

Nawroz, which translates as "new day," has been traditionally celebrated in Iran and by Persian-speaking peoples in Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

In areas still controlled by an anti-Taliban alliance in northeastern Afghanistan the Persian calendar remains in use and Nawroz is celebrated.

The Taliban, which controls most of the country, has imposed a strict interpretation of Sharia law under which men must wear untrimmed beards while women must cover themselves from head to foot outside their homes.

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