A group of Kabul men flung off their baggy trousers and tunics Thursday for a game of post-Taliban soccer, free from the threat of interruption by the fundamentalist militia carrying out a public execution. ``In the past, soccer matches were interrupted and executions would be carried out for everyone to see,'' Ahmed Marof is quoted as saying by Reuters in the middle of a practice soccer match in the same Kabul football ground that the Taliban used for shooting criminals. ``What could we do?'' Bullet casings could still be seen on the pitch. The Taliban, who tried to turn Afghanistan into their vision of a pure Muslim utopia, retreated from Kabul before dawn on Tuesday -- freeing residents from their draconian rules. Women appeared on the streets without the head-to-toe burqa veils the Taliban forced them to wear, music was heard for the first time since the militia took the city in 1996, children flew kites, men shaved off the beards the Taliban made compulsory -- and played soccer. The Taliban allowed soccer on special occasions, but with bizarre restrictions. Players had to wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers -- preventing the showing of skin, which the Taliban denounced as un-Islamic. Applause was banned -- spectators were told the appropriate way to show enthusiasm was to shout ``Allahu Akbar!'' (God is Greatest). Last year, a match in the Taliban's stronghold Kandahar against players from the Pakistani border town Chaman ended in disarray when members of the feared religious police raced on to the pitch to arrest the Pakistani players for wearing shorts. Five of the Pakistani players managed to flee to the safety of their consulate in Kandahar while the rest had their heads shaved before being released. Pakistani diplomats lodged a protest. The Taliban's interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic, law imposed the death penalty for several offences. Executions were often carried out in public, sometimes by the family of the victim. With few other sources of entertainment, Afghans often flocked to stadiums to watch. But Thursday's players were left to play interrupted, and dared to wear shorts. ``Before, the Taliban used to make us play in long garments, and today you see us in short sleeves and shorts,'' said Ahmed Zaia. ``It's wonderful.''
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the termination of diplomatic relations with NATO at a time when US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ended a meeting in Georgia with his counterpart