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Afghan Mayor Shot Dead Over Cosmetics Row

The ulema's decree is reminiscent of those imposed by the Taliban during their six-year rule of Afghanistan, when women were banned from using any form of cosmetics, including fragrances and nail polish.
DEH SALAH, Afghanistan -- Nothing in Afghanistan stokes uproar like a controversy involving women -- be it their role in government, access to education, or even their right to buy makeup.

That may explain a growing row over cosmetic shops for women that has now claimed the life of a local mayor in Afghanistan.

Abdul Rassoul, district mayor of Deh Salah in the northern province of Baghlan, was gunned down by a shopkeeper during a raid late on July 6. The district's police commander, Abdul Ahad, said Rassoul was shot three times and later pronounced dead upon arrival at a local hospital.

Ahad said police launched a manhunt to capture the suspected killer, who fled the scene and has not been seen since the incident. The police commander stressed that Rassoul acted on his own.

"Without notifying me or getting approval from the district governor, [Rassoul] went on a raid and tried to close several cosmetic shops," Ahad said. "At one of the shops he encountered a shopkeeper who had a gun and opened fired on [Rassoul]."

Rassoul sought to close the shops after an ulema, or Islamic council, in the district issued a fatwa last month ordering the immediate closure of all cosmetic shops in Deh Salah. The hard-line clerics argued that the sale of cosmetics was "un-Islamic" and the presence of the shops promoted adultery.

Abdul Hannan, a former mayor of Deh Salah who was recently removed from his post, said Rassoul took matters into his own hands after ulema members threatened to burn down the shops if he did not act.

"The [ulema] said they were going to burn the cosmetic shops. The district mayor was scared that the ulema might start a rally and burn down the whole district so he went to the cosmetic shop owners and told them to close down," Hannan said.

Cosmetic-shop owners in Deh Salah have defended their right to sell their products, saying the use of makeup is a common practice across the country. They accuse the clerics of trying to bring back the extremist practices of the Taliban era.

The ulema's decree is reminiscent of the strict edicts imposed by the Taliban during their six-year rule of Afghanistan. Under the Taliban's fundamentalist regime, women were banned from using any form of cosmetics, including fragrances and nail polish. Women who broke the laws were publicly beaten by the Taliban's notorious vice and virtue police.

Written by Frud Bezhan, based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Bashir Ghazali in Baghlan
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is acting editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.