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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 March 2007, 16:41 GMT
New year fever grips Afghanistan
By Mark Dummett
BBC News, Kabul

Nowruz celebrations
Nowruz is celebrated across the Persian speaking world
It is the Afghan New Year, or Nowruz, and the people of Kabul have been celebrating the first sunshine of spring on the city's muddy hillsides.

With the winter now over, the Taleban, who had banned this festival when they were in power, have threatened to unleash a wave of suicide attacks.

But their warnings have not dampened the mood.

"My friends and I have been dancing and enjoying ourselves. It is the start of the New Year and I'm very happy," Mohammed Jamshaid, a journalism student says.

"It is going to be a good year and I'm looking forward to going back to university."

His friend Baktaz agrees.

"Everybody is very happy and wishing each other happy Nowruz," he says.

"Fortunately the sun is shining, because in the last few days it has been raining cats and dogs."

Kebabs and marijuana

Hundreds of people walked to the top of Bibi Mahro hill to enjoy the spectacular views of the city, and celebrate beside an empty Olympic-sized swimming poll built by the Soviets.

Afghans dancing
Afghans are hopeful that the coming year will bring peace

Crowds clapped and cheered as young men took turns to dance and wrestle.

Children flew multi-coloured kits and had rock-throwing competitions.

There was the faint smell of marijuana and smoke from charcoal grills cooking kebabs.

Most women kept to a discreet distance and sat around picnics in large family groups.

After a long, cold and wet winter, people enjoyed the good weather.

"This winter there was too much rain and snow," Hamayoun Khattack, who works for an international aid agency, said.

"But that is good for our country because we've been suffering from drought. We hope this will be a good and peaceful year for us."

At a ceremony at the city's main Shia shrine, the Sakhi Shrine, an eight-metre flag pole was erected smoothly.

This is considered an auspicious sign for the coming year - 1386 by the calendar used in Afghanistan and Iran.

If the pole falls or slips as it is manoeuvred into place, as happened last time, some people believe the year will be bad one.

Taleban countrymen

Certainly, many are worried that the onset of spring will see a sharp rise in violence across Afghanistan.

Kabul suffered its first suicide attack in 2007 on Monday.

A bomber drove his car into a convoy carrying US embassy personnel.

Like in many such attacks, the only person killed other than the suicide bomber was a young Afghan passer-by.

"Yes, everybody is concerned by the Taleban's threats," Mr Khattack says.

"But I hope this year will be a year of reconciliation between the government and the Taleban. They are our countrymen."

"These attacks take place all over world," Baktaz the student said.

"So long as we get the co-operation from the rest of the world our country can defend us."




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