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Taliban to destroy world's tallest Buddha statue

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An undated photo of the world's tallest Bhuddha statue at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. (AP)

Afghanistan's hardline Taliban rulers, who revile images as against Islam, ordered the destruction Monday of all statues, including the world's tallest standing Buddha and a smaller one. The order came from the Taliban's supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar who issued an edict declaring statues, including the ancient Buddhas, as insulting to Islam. Afghanistan's ancient Buddhas are located in Bamiyan, about 150kms west of the Afghan capital of Kabul. The tallest Buddha, measuring 53 metres is the world's tallest standing Buddha. The smaller one stands 37 metres. The two statues, which have been damaged in fighting in the area, were carved out of the Afghan mountainside in the fifth century. It's not clear what prompted the latest Taliban edict.

The Taliban espouse a harsh brand of Islamic law that bans most forms of light entertainment, all photography, requires men to wear beards in keeping with the fashion of Islam's prophet Mohammed. The Taliban also require everyone to pray five times a day, as required in the Muslim holy book the Koran. Many of the Taliban's edicts are directed against women, who are required to wear the all-enveloping burqa, travel with a male relative. Women are not allowed to work and schools for girls beyond 8 years old is not allowed, although the Taliban say they will allow it when fighting ends.

The Taliban rule roughly 95 per cent of the country and the opposition, led by ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani, the remaining five percent. As well as the giant Buddhas, Afghanistan's museum contains a treasure-trove of Buddhist-era artifacts. Much of the museum was destroyed in the bitter fighting between rival Islamic factions, including Rabbanis, between 1992 and 1996 when the Taliban took control. Many of the artifacts were stolen and sold on the open market. Some have appeared in museums around the world. The tallest of the two giant Buddhas has already been damaged by zealous Taliban soldiers who fired rocket propelled grenades at it. There have been reports that the faces of the Buddhas have been disfigured. Faces are forbidden in Islam, according to the Taliban.

Sincere thanks to Tran Thi Phuong Lan for providing us with this article


Updated: 1-3-2001

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