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Last Updated: Friday, 16 January, 2004, 09:33 GMT
Afghan TV U-turn on women singers
Afghan man watches woman singing on TV
State TV says circumstances are "not suitable" for women singers
Afghan state television has gone back on a decision to show female singers, saying the country is not yet ready for such broadcasts.

A song by the popular artist, Salma, was shown on Monday, the first time such images were broadcast since 1992.

But the programming chief of state-run TV, Azizullah Aryanfar, told the AFP news agency: "Current circumstances are not suitable to air women singing."

The decision came after the supreme court complained to the government.

'Too early'

Mr Aryanfar denied that the broadcasters had received a letter from the court demanding the images be stopped and said no official decision on the issue had been taken.

But he said such footage would not be run "at least for the time being".

I didn't see anything un-Islamic in Ms Salma's footage; she was just sitting politely and singing
Habiba Surabi,
Women's Affairs Minister

He added: "We knew this kind of move might be too early, and is not acceptable in the many conservative circles which have strong influence in the country."

The supreme court, dominated by conservative former mujahideen fighters, has often accused media in the country of violating Islamic principles.

Monday night's broadcast was old footage of Salma singing a ballad about a refugee. She was wearing a headscarf instead of an all-enveloping burqa.

Higher profile

The footage marked the latest liberalisation effort by the moderate administration of President Hamid Karzai.

However, the supreme court reacted angrily, with Deputy Chief Justice Fazel Ahmed Manawi saying: "This has to be stopped. We are opposed to women singing and dancing as a whole."

Women in Kabul
The new constitution gives women equal rights

That in turn sparked a protest by women's leaders.

Women's Affairs Minister Habiba Surabi said: "The supreme court interferes in issues which are not their business, they want to impose their views on people.

"I didn't see anything un-Islamic in Ms Salma's footage; she was just sitting politely and singing."

Women singers have not appeared on state television since the mujahideen brought down the communist President Najibullah in 1992.

When the Taleban came to power in 1996, it banned all television.

Women have gradually been gaining a higher profile since the fall of the Taleban just over two years ago.

The recent loya jirga, or grand assembly, adopted a new constitution which gave women equal rights.

Since 2002, some have presented news shows on television.

There has also been a proliferation of Indian movies and cable television, which conservative Islamists have heavily criticised.

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