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Saudi Valentine's crackdown

If you can't stand shops filled with roses, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, teddy bears, cards and novelty gifts, Saudi Arabia is the place to be this Valentine's Day.

The country's feared muttawa -- religious police -- have launched a campaign to banish from the shelves anything that could be construed as a romantic gift. As Sunday approaches, they have been patrolling the shops and posting warnings in local newspapers to remind traders that anyone caught violating the ban will be punished.

Saudi Arabia adheres to a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam and bans the celebration of Western holidays -- and Valentine's Day is a particular target because of its nominal connection to the life of a Christian saint. The kingdom, the birthplace of Islam, also bans birthday celebrations and Mother's Day, and even several Muslim holidays, because it considers them "religious innovations" that Islam does not sanction.

But roses and romantic gifts are legal for the rest of the year -- so amorous Saudis and expatriates have been buying their gifts well in advance of the Valentine's Day crackdown.