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Japan joins protests

TOKYO (March 2, 2001): The Japanese government added its voice Friday to protests raised around the world over the Taliban's destruction of all statues in Afghanistan, including two ancient Buddhas.

"The Japanese government is deeply concerned," said Kazuhiko Koshikawa, spokesman for Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. "Those statues are assets to all human beings."

"If they are ruined, it would be an immeasurable loss," he said. "The Japanese government hopes that Taliban will review such a decision and take appropriate measures."

Anger over the order has been particularly strong in Buddhist areas of Asia because the works include two huge Buddhas carved into a cliff in Bamiyan province, about 125 km west of the capital, Kabul. One of the statues is 175 feet (53 meters) high and dates to the 5th century; the other is 120 feet (36 meters) tall and dates to the 3rd century.

In Europe, Swedish Culture Minister Marita Ulvskog said Friday that she was dismayed at the destruction.

"This threatens to rob the Afghan people of an important part of their rich cultural heritage. These monuments are of great historic value and are also a major concern of the international community," she said.

Sweden holds the rotating EU presidency and Ulvskog is chairing the EU Council of Ministers for Cultural and Audiovisual Affairs.

The call for restraint from Japan's government comes after Buddhist leaders here expressed similar concerns. Most Japanese consider themselves followers of both Buddhism and the native religion of Shinto.

But the concern goes beyond Asian Buddhists.

On Thursday, the head of UNESCO said he was shocked that the Islamic rulers of Afghanistan began destroying the statues and convened a meeting of Islamic representatives at the Paris-based organization to seek a solution.

"They are destroying statues that the entire world considers to be masterpieces," Director-General Koichiro Matsuura, who is Japanese, said in a statement.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Italy-funded Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage have called for the preservation of the statues. And French President Jacques Chirac has called the Taliban's actions "disastrous."

Even the Taliban's closest ally, Pakistan - one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban - pleaded for the preservation of the ancient works of art.


Updated: 3-3-2001

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