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Drivers in southern Tajikistan now risk stiff fines for listening to loud music in their vehicles.

Local authorities in the province of Khatlon have instructed traffic police to punish drivers who crank up the music or listen to loud recordings of religious sermons -- a popular practice in the predominantly Muslim country.

While drivers mostly get away with a reprimand the first time, repeat offenders face fines ranging between 105 and 175 somoni ($22 and $37), a relatively large sum by local standards.

Officials say blaring music in vehicles, particularly in taxis and buses, disturbs public peace and poses a danger to traffic safety.

While many locals have welcomed the measure with a sigh of relief, many drivers say it intrudes on their rights.

"It's my car and I listen to the music I want," says Kurbonnazar Komilov, a local driver. "We live in a democracy."

The ban also applies to using mobile phones and portable television sets in vehicles.

-- Ismatullo Abdulkhamidov and Claire Bigg

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