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Afghan universities shut down after sectarian clash

Afghanistan shuts down three major public universities in Kabul following clashes that erupted on Saturday after a ritual marking the Shiite Muslim festival of Ashura was interrupted by Sunni students

AFP , Sunday 25 Nov 2012
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Afghanistan has closed down three major public universities in the capital Kabul for more than a week after sectarian clashes left one student dead and nearly 30 others wounded, an official said Sunday.

The clashes erupted on Saturday after a ritual marking the Shiite Muslim festival of Ashura was interrupted by Sunni students.

One student was killed and 28 others were wounded as students attacked each other with sticks and rocks, according to interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.

The violence primarily hit the university's hostel which houses students from the provinces, with witnesses saying one student was killed as he was pushed off a window from the third floor.

To avoid further violence, Afghanistan's higher education ministry closed down three major public universities for 10 days.

"It's a precautionary measure," Sediqqi told AFP.

Ashura is a religious ceremony marking the murder of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, by the armies of the Caliph Yazid in 680.

Sectarian violence is rare in Afghanistan, which is gripped by a deadly Islamic insurgency led by the Taliban militants.

Political leaders including representatives from the Shiite minorities have called for restraint.

Afghanistan's Shiite minorities have gained significant freedom since the hardline Taliban were removed from power in a 2001 US-led invasion.

The Ashura ceremony, in which men beat their chests and self-flagellate their backs with sharp blades, has long been a magnet for sectarian attacks. Last year more than 80 people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in Kabul.

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