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Kabul residents relish new freedoms

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Women are unveiling their faces and men are shaving their beards one day after Taliban forces fled the Afghan capital of Kabul.

Once-prohibited music and radio stations are now competing with bicycle bells following five years of harsh Taliban rule.

In Karte Nau, a largely Pashtun neighborhood, children flew kites and teenagers listened to music as Northern Alliance troops entered the city.

"We haven't heard any music for six years, we are crazy about music!," Omar, a 20-year-old Pashtun mechanic told Reuters news agency.

The Taliban, which espoused a purist form of Islam, banned Western dress and demanded that all men wear turbans. Women had to be completely veiled and were not allowed to be educated nor work.

Television, photographs, lipstick, neckties, playing cards and music -- except for religious music -- were also banned as part of the Taliban's campaign to create the purest Muslim state on earth.

But on Wednesday a few bold women shrugged off their head-to-toe veils, or burqas, after the Taliban's religious police, the Ministry of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, fled the city.

In Foruj-Ga market, one woman worked in a shop wearing a black headscarf that revealed her face, Reuters news agency reported.

Barbers too were doing brisk business as young men with trimmed beards and bare faces walked the streets listening to music from roadside stalls, no longer fearing imprisonment.

Anti-Taliban tensions

Yet relief at the fall of the Taliban in Kabul does not mean residents are now completely relaxed.

Scenes of joy mask concerns that the alliance's capture of the city will again result in the ethnic infighting that ravaged Kabul before the Taliban capture in 1996.

Ethnically Pashtun residents, bitterly recall past injustices at the hands of the same ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks that recently took the city as part of the Northern Alliance force.

And already there are reports of retribution against pro-Taliban civilians, who are mostly Pashtuns.

CNN showed pictures of angry residents spitting on the bodies of dead Taliban militia and roughing up a man they believe collaborated with the Taliban.

Others were seen chanting death to Taliban leader Mullar Mohamed Omar and shouting slogans against Pakistan, reports CNN's Mathew Chance in Kabul.

But despite these skirmishes, there is hope that Afghans will achieve some formula of power sharing between all the ethnic groups.

After 38 days of U.S.-led bombing, Kabul residents are now beginning to acquaint themselves with armed troops stationed on street corners.

The alliance leaders say they have deployed up to 3,000 security troops across Kabul to bring order -- not to occupy it -- and insist they are committed to a broad-based government.

As sporadic gunfire is heard on the streets of the sprawling Afghan city, the United Nations is trying to cobble together a post-Taliban government.


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