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Afghanistan: Friday Dog Fights Resume In Kabul

Friday in Afghanistan is a day off from work as religious obligations must be met on this holy day. The streets of Kabul are nearly empty, but on the outskirts of town an Afghan tradition starts every Friday morning: the dog fights. RFE/RL's correspondent in Kabul, Bruce Pannier, witnessed the spectacle and filed this report.

Kabul, 18 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- It's Friday in Kabul, and as Afghanistan is an Islamic country, that means it is a day off from work. Where do Afghans go for entertainment? The answer is just outside the city at the base of the mountains, where Friday morning is the time for the dog fights.

Dog fighting was prohibited by the Taliban, but it is making a comeback, a fact evidenced by the size of the crowd that has gathered by 9 a.m. -- one hour before fight time. The crowd is entirely male, and there are about 500 of them here today.

The vendors have arrived too. Peanuts, raisins, cigarettes, chewing gum -- it is all here in case anyone forgot to bring his own. Some vendors circulate through the crowd selling their items. Others simply push their carts to the edges of the ring of people who have gathered.

Finally, it is show time. The dogs are brought into the ring. The dogs are all local shepherd dogs, about as big as German shepherds but with their ears and tails clipped to prevent their opponents from having extra bits of flesh to sink their teeth into.

The first two dogs are let loose, and the crowd roars.

Animal lovers, take heart. This is not a fight to the death. Indeed, no blood is spilled on this day. It more resembles a vicious wrestling match. Once one dog is pinned and cannot get up, the fight is over.

It's more dangerous for the spectators. The ring, about 10 meters wide, quickly closes as everyone pushes forward to get a better view. The elderly but energetic man at the center of the ring who calls the fight takes on a new role as head of crowd control. Wielding a whip, he beats back those who approach too closely and threaten to interfere with the fight.

The fans of the dog fights say they come for the excitement.

"I come every Friday. I brought three of my friends here to see," says one.

Another man, who speaks Russian, says he enjoys the fights and notes that fans occasionally wager on the dogs: "We come by here every Friday. There are people here who [gamble] also. But we don't do that. We see the dog fights here so we stop and watch them."

One young man says he never misses a match: "Every Friday I come here for the dog fights with my friends. It is fun to watch."

Today, there are only three fights. The owners of the winning dogs receive nothing but the distinction of being able to say their dog won this day. They will all be back next week with their friends.

As 11 a.m. approaches, everyone is aware the call to prayer will come soon, an obligation that none of the faithful can shirk. Now it time to go to mosque, and later, while sitting for tea, they will tell their friends about the fights they have seen today.