Taliban: time to gather explosives and blow up statues

Afghanistan's radical Taliban rulers, who have begun smashing relics from the country's rich cultural past, has gathered explosives to blow up two priceless, rock-hewn Buddhas, an Afghan news agency said. Subject to destruction are the Bamiyan statues, which date back to a few centuries after the birth of Christ, and people nearby were being cleared from the area. The U.N. cultural agency UNESCO describes the campaign as a crisis for world heritage and urges Muslim nations to help halt the destruction. New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art offered to buy the artefacts rather than see them destroyed, Reuters reports. The Taliban, a fundamentalist movement that regards all human likenesses of divinity as un-Islamic, rejected a last-minute appeal from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for a rethink. Nepal, the birthplace of the Lord Buddha, and Buddhist countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka expressed alarm at the Taliban's focus on eradicating reminders of the centuries before Islam when Afghanistan was a centre of Buddhist learning and pilgrimage. Even Muslim Pakistan, one of Taliban's few foreign supporters, joined the international chorus on Thursday. "Pakistan attaches great importance to and supports the preservation of the world's historical, cultural and religious heritage," the foreign ministry said. Egyptian Muslim intellectual Fahmi Howeidy said the Taliban edict ran contrary to Islam. Heavily criticized for their restrictions on women and for its public executions, the Taliban are recognised by only three states - Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

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