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Little love for Valentine's Day from hardline Muslim groups

Indonesian officials and Muslim clerics called for young people to skip Valentine's Day on Thursday, saying it's an excuse for couples to have forbidden sex. People in one province were banned from buying holiday gifts.

Many teenagers use the Western holiday as a time to express their love, which often leads to premarital sex, said Idris Abdul Somad, deputy mayor of Depok, a town on the outskirts of Jakarta, the capital.

"I called on parents not to give their children any chance to celebrate Valentine's Day," he said. "Because they may be expressing love to their lovers more freely ... it could lead to forbidden sexual relations."

He called on residents to instead take their children to Islamic religious activities.

Religious leaders in Aceh, the only Indonesian province where Islamic law is imposed, pressed ahead with a new rule banning people from buying gifts for Valentine's Day. Valentine's Day celebrations were already banned in the province.

"It does not reflect love in accordance with Islamic teachings ... it's the same as promoting faiths other than Islam," said Teungku Faisal Ali, a prominent cleric of the Aceh Ulema Council.

Hundreds of students in Jambi, on Sumatra island, and Solo, in Central Java, held Valentine's Day protests Wednesday. Muslim clerics also urged youngsters to avoid celebrations in several cities in Indonesia, including Padang, Riau, Palembang and Banten.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, is a secular nation of 240 million. It has a long history of religious tolerance, but a small extremist fringe has become more vocal — and violent — in recent years.

In Pakistan, meanwhile, where conservative Islamic parties hold huge sway in many regions, clerics and officials blasted observation of Valentine's Day as un-Islamic and warned people not to take part.

In the sprawling southern port city of Karachi, the Reuters news agency said billboard adorned with black hearts had cropped up, urging citizens to reject the holiday, suggesting the "tradition reflects insensitivity, indignity and ignorance of Islam." The billboards were reportedly posted by far-right Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami.

"Valentine's is against Islamic culture. In our view, relationships are sacred. We have arranged marriages in this culture and people don't get married for love," Jamaat-e-Islami spokesman Syed Askari told Reuters. "This is imposing Western values and cultures on an Islamic society."

Reuters said a small group of people also burned Valentine's Day cards in front of television cameras in the northern city of Peshawar.

In the capital city of Islamabad, however, there seemed to be less conservative views of the Valentine's Day tradition.

Reuters said people along the capital's streets were out in force selling heart-shaped balloons and flowers.

"Valentine's Day is good for business," vendor Mohammed Ajmar told the news agency as he handed a customer a heart made of roses and glitter.

"I'm happy with Valentine's Day. The city if full of flowers and it looks nice," 21-year-old student Faateh Khan told Reuters as he bought roses for his mother. "Those people are just a minority of extremists acting up for the media," he said of the Islamic fundamentalists.

While the hardliners comprise a very small number of Pakistan's elected legislative body, their influence in some areas is significant, owing largely to their vocal protests and the violence employed by Islamic militant groups which operate with near impunity in some regions.

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