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Page last updated at 12:47 GMT, Tuesday, 7 April 2009 13:47 UK

Pakistan festival dancers banned

By Nisar Khokar
BBC Urdu service, Larkana

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Leaders of a religious group in the south of Pakistan have banned women dancers from a traditional spring festival, officials say.

Organisers of the festival in the province of Sindh say they have had to cut the 10-day festival to three days as a result of the threats.

The clerics who asked the dancers to leave the area were accompanied by local police, witnesses said.

The group, called the JUI-F, has its main support base in the north-west.

But the JUI-F (Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazlur) has been spreading its wings in the south of the country as well.

The JUI-F is led by cleric Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who is known for his close ties to the Taleban in Afghanistan.

His is one of the most influential and resourceful organisations in Pakistan working for what is described as a "pure, Islamic state".

Cannot proceed

"We asked the dancers to leave the area after obtaining approval of the Shahdadkot district police," JUI-F's information secretary for Sindh province, Maulana Abdur Razzak Abid Lakho, told the BBC.

Organisers said some 18 female dancers, mostly from Punjab, perform in the festival in the town of Waggan, in the Shahdadkot district of Sindh, every year.

They said a six-member team of JUI-F clerics, accompanied by local police, came to the festival on Monday and asked the dancers to leave within one hour.

The dancers immediately complied with the orders, they said.

Sufi music and dance have been the main features of the festival and organisers said that without this it cannot proceed.

The JUI-F ruled North West Frontier Province (NWFP) from 2002 until 2007.

During its rule there the party carried out a sustained campaign against musicians, dancers and cable operators in the province and in adjoining tribal areas, forcing most of them either to give up their business or flee into exile.

In recent years, the group has also been asserting its control in rural areas of the southern provinces of Sindh and Balochistan - the traditional bases of support for secular nationalist groups.

Local correspondents say the group appears to be using the rising threat of militant attacks to get the local judiciary and police to implement its agenda in these areas.

Three months ago, the JUI-F obtained restraining orders from a local court to force a local television channel, Sindh TV, to abandon a music show in Nawabshah city.

The party has also carried out extensive graffiti campaigns across Sindh province in which satellite dishes, cable TV and VCRs are described as "three signs of the approaching doomsday".



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