New year celebrated

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, March 21, 2010 (AFP): Afghans travelled from across the country to the northern city of Mazar-I-Sharif. Up to half a million people were in the city to mark the spring equinox and the first day of the traditional Persian new year, called Nowruz and celebrated across Central Asia and Iran.

Mazar is at the heart of one of the most peaceful regions of the country.

For many people converging on Mazar-I-Sharif's breathtaking Blue Mosque, believed to be the grave of Islam's fourth caliph Hazrat Ali, peace was at the heart of their new year wishes.

Since the Taliban's downfall, Mazar-I-Sharif has reclaimed its place as the centre of Afghanistan's Nowruz festivities dating back thousands of years.

"One of my biggest wishes has been to participate in Nowruz celebrations here and I have finally made it," said Murtaza Rezayee, a student from the central province of Daikundi.

Shopkeeper Besmiullah Abdul Saleem said, "I come every year and thanks to Hazrat Ali my business has been very, very good. I owe everything to this.”

For some, the shrine brings more than just luck and fortune; some believe it also has the power to cure the ill and infirm.