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Nawroz celebrations ongoing; security high

22 March, 2013

MAZAR-I-SHARIF: Amid tight security, Balkh Governor Atta Mohammad Noor on Thursday inaugurated a flag-hoisting ceremony, marking the new solar year in Mazar-i-Sharif, the centre of Nawroz festivities.

Thousands of men, women, children, government officials and foreign diplomats attended the ceremony that began at 8:30 at the Hazrat Ali Shrine.

In his opening remarks, Noor stressed only Afghan-led and Afghan-owned national reconciliation could bring peace and stability to the country. He warned political disunity could spell trouble for the country.

The governor called for drastic changes to the reconciliation strategy, but did not elaborate. However, he explai­ned that the Afghans themselves had to lead the process if it had to be successful. Noor said the people were deeply concerned about post-2014 situation and keeping in mind their concerns, politicians were duty-bound to get united and keep the nation from falling into a political crisis.

He said all Afghans, civil society groups, opposition parties, youth, women and rebels, should have their say in an inclusive reconciliation programme to shape the nation's future.

Noor, who campaigned for President Karzai's main political rival Dr. Abdullah Abdullah during the last presidential elections, has been critical of the government's policies.

While greeting the nation on new year, he hoped it would bring peace and prosperity to the country. He also highlighted the reconstruction and development projects executed by his administration over the past year.

Information and Culture Minister Syed Makhdoom Raheen, Wolesi Jirga members, governors of northern provinces and foreign diplomats were in attendance.

Balkh police spokesman Sher Jan Durrani told Pajhwok Afghan News 6,000 security personnel -- compared with 3,000 deployed last year -- had fanned out various parts of the city to ensure the celebrations took place in a peaceful environment.

Last year, ISAF personnel had assisted their Afghan counterparts in maintaining security for new year functions, but this time around, the Afghans are going it alone.

The governor said Balkh revenue had witnessed a 35 percent increase last year. He said the city airport -- named after Maulana Mohammad Jalaluddin Balkhi -- had been renovated at a cost of $45 million, with Germany contributing $35 million.

AN engineering faculty was set up at Balkh University with financial assistance from Pakistan, Noor said. A new 500-bed hospital, 15 public sector and seven private high schools and 72 middle schools were opened.

Nearly 50 kilometeres of roads were blacktopped during the year in the provincial capital and hundreds of kilometres of roads built in districts, said Noor, who called for formally inaugurating the 75-kilometre railroad between Mazar-i-Sharif and the Hairatan port.

Several concerts are held during the week to ring in in the new year in Mazar-i-Shari that holds the largest country-wide festivity every year. Musicians from the United States, Tajikistan, Turkey, Pakistan and India perform and many Afghan singers throng the events.

Nawroz celebrations date back to more than 3,000 years and the holiday is also marked in other countries such as Iran, Turkey, India, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Turkm­en­istan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

On Nawroz, Afghans wear new clothes and exchange gifts. In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly formally recognised the International Day of Nawroz.

End.

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