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Taliban beat people who mark Persian new year

March 21, 1999 , KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Taliban soldiers whipped several residents of the capital with steel wires Sunday after they defied a ban on new year's celebrations, witnesses said.

The centuries-old festival, based on the Persian calendar, marks the end of winter.

It is widely celebrated in neighboring Iran and until last year was marked also in Afghanistan. However, the Taliban religious army which controls most of the country banned the festival, saying it violates the tenets of Islam.

The festival traditionally involves visiting family, decorating homes with lights and paying respects to deceased relatives at graveyards throughout the city.

Taliban soldiers beat several people, including women, with steel wires because they were offering prayers at graveyards in keeping with new year's celebrations, witnesses said.

Earlier the Taliban asked Shiite clerics to explain to their followers that new year's celebrations were against Islam. Many people nonetheless defied the ban.

The Taliban, who largely belong to the Sunni sect of Islam and are mostly ethnic Pashtuns, like most Afghans, rule 90 percent of Afghanistan.

They espouse a harsh version of Islam that bars women from work and education, forces men to wear beards and outlaws all light entertainment, including music.

The Taliban are fighting the northern-based opposition alliance, which comprises mainly of ethnic and religious minorities in a bid to control the rest of the country.


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