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    Price hikes on red roses in Saudi Arabia despite Valentine ban

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    RIYADH, February 14 (RIA Novosti) - Prices on red roses, a worldwide symbol of love, have increased five-fold in Saudi Arabia, as shops are forced to sell them under the counter following a ban by the country's religious police.

    On February 10, the religious police, or Muttawa, banned all red items from shop shelves. The ban is enforced by squads of the country's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, who raided florists and gift shops on the eve of Valentine's Day.

    "The commission is instructed to seize all gifts, that symbolize this pagan holiday, and to bring to justice those who sell them," Sheikh Ibrahim ibn Abdullah Al-Ghaith, president of the Commission, told the Al-Jazirah newspaper.

    He added that the Muttawa would stop all celebration of this "frivolous Western custom," to protect the Islamic faith. The newspaper said that this year, the number of raids had increased significantly.

    The methods of the religious police range from raising public awareness to arresting those who promote the day by wearing red tops and distributing red roses.

    All non-Islamic holidays, religious services and symbols are banned in Saudi Arabia. However, religious police promise not to harass non-Muslims, who tend to celebrate Valentine's Day, "on the condition they do not do it in public places."

    Many Saudi Arabian residents believe that enforcing the ban on such events only draws public attention to the holiday.

    "It triggers the principle that forbidden fruit is sweet," one Saudi told the newspaper.

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