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Tue 12 Feb 2008 05:15 PM

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Saudi bans red roses for Valentines

Kingdom's religious police ban flowers and anything scarlet ahead of Feb.14 romantic celebration.

Saudi Arabia's religious police have banned red roses ahead of Valentine's Day on February 14, pushing up the black market prices for the red flowers.

Mutawwa, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, on Sunday ordered florists and gift shop owners in the capital Riyadh to remove any items coloured scarlet, widely associated with romantic love, local newspaper the Saudi Gazette reported.

Black market prices for roses have been already rising because of the ban, the paper said. The ban has been regularly enforced in recent years, it added.

"They visited us last night," the newspaper quoted an unidentified florist as saying.

Saudi authorities consider Valentine's Day as un-Islamic, primarily for encouraging relations between men and women outside wedlock, an act punishable by law in the conservative kingdom.

Valentine's Day has been associated with romantic love since being linked by author Geoffrey Chaucer in 12th-century England, but celebration of the event has expanded globally due to the introduction of the Valentine greeting card in the US in the 19th century.

The US Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion Valentines cards are sent each year worldwide, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas.

The association also estimates that women purchase approximately 85% of all Valentine cards.

According to Saudi citizens, the kingdom's ban on roses appears to exclusively relate to the sale of flowers by florists and shop owners, and not wholesale flower sales to be used in the production of perfume in the kingdom.

How the ban relates to married couples in Saudi Arabia, Muslims or otherwise, giving each other roses or to the placement of flowers on Muslim graves in the kingdom, has not been elaborated by authorities.

The Saudi Gazette reported that some people placed orders with florists days or weeks before Valentine's Day in anticipation of the ban.

"Sometimes we deliver the bouquets in the middle of the night or early morning, to avoid suspicion," one florist said.

Some citizens said they were planning to travel to other Gulf states like Bahrain or the UAE, to celebrate the event, the newspaper reported.

The ban on the sale and display of red flowers or scarlet displays should be lifted after February 14, some Saudi citizens said.

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