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Iran approves ancient fire festival for first time since revolution

TEHRAN, March 13 (AFP) - Iran has officially approved an ancient pagan new year celebration, the Zoroastrian "Festival of Fire," for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution, newspapers reported Saturday.

The more than 2,000-year-old festival, held the final Tuesday before the Iranian new year on March 21, has been given the green light by the interior ministry, which urged participants to be "careful."

During the ancient rite people eat dried fruits and jump over fires to drive away evil spirits and cleanse their souls ahead of the new year.

But the festival has become part of general new year celebrations, and with the modern-day addition of firecrackers

thrown at the fire-jumpers, dozens of people are wounded every year.

Thousands of police and firemen will be mobilised for the celebrations nationwide on Tuesday.

Fire is a symbol of God for the Zoroastrians, followers of Zoroaster, born around 550 B.C. in present-day Afghanistan.

Zoroastrianism was one of the first religions to conceive of an omnipotent God and keep eternal flames burning at their temples.

One such flame in the Iranian city of Yazd, the traditional centre of Iran's Zoroastrians, has been burning for more than 1,400 years.

Few Zoroastrians remain worldwide, and in Iran they are thought to number far less than one percent of the population of 60 million.

Shiite Moslem Iran had forbidden the festival since 1979, calling it "superstitious" and "anti-Islamic."


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