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    Russia, ex-Soviet republics celebrate Women's Day

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    MOSCOW, March 8 (RIA Novosti) - Russia and other former Soviet republics along with several other countries around the world are currently celebrating March 8, International Women's Day, on which men show their appreciation to women by giving them flowers and gifts.

    March 8 became an official celebration in Russia soon after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, and remains popular in former Soviet republics and Eastern bloc countries.

    After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the breakup of the USSR, several governments ceased to officially observe the holiday, but Women's Day retains wide popularity in many of these countries.

    Estonia, a former Soviet republic which joined the European Union in 2004, ceased to officially observe the holiday after gaining its independence in 1991, due to its negative associations with communism. However, many Estonian men continue to indulge women on March 8.

    Armenia cancelled International Women's Day for similar reasons after gaining independence, creating a new public holiday on April 7, Day of Motherhood and Beauty. However, March 8 is still unofficially marked.

    March 8 is still a public holiday in Azerbaijan. After the country gained independence, the authorities had considered scrapping the holiday, but President Heydar Aliyev, father of current President Ilham Aliyev, opted to retain it when he came to power in 1993. There has been recent pressure from clerics in the predominantly Muslim state to celebrate women on a religious day instead, for example, the birthday of Prophet Mohammed's daughter Fatima. However, these proposals have not met with wide popular support.

    In the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan, all women receive gifts purportedly from their authoritarian President Saparmurat Niyazov, known as Turkmenbashi, on March 8.

    International Women's Day, based on National Women's Day in the U.S., was first proposed in 1910 by Clara Zetkin, an influential socialist German politician and a fighter for women's rights. Zetkin intended it as a call to women around the world to battle for equal rights.

    International Women's Day in the USSR was initially intended to celebrate the achievements of women workers, and would include state ceremonies declaring the government's achievements in improving the status of women.

    The celebrations have largely lost their feminist and political overtones, and in present-day Russia and its neighbors, the focus is on traditional chivalrous acts, including taking ladies out to dinner or doing the housework.

    On Moscow's subway system, congratulatory messages to women will be broadcast throughout the day on the Metro's public address system. In the Urals city of Perm, thousands of couples will gather in an attempt to break the world kissing record.

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