Taliban hoist giant flag in Afghan capital, eight months after return

Kabul (AFP) – The Taliban raised a giant white flag of their movement on a hill overlooking the Afghan capital Thursday in a ceremony held nearly eight months after they returned to power.

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Several hundred Taliban, many armed, attended the ceremony presided over by Abdul Salam Hanafi, a deputy prime minister, on the hill in Wazir Akbar Khan, near the mostly deserted diplomatic enclave in Kabul.

Measuring 40 metres (130 feet) wide and 26 metres high, the white flag is decorated with the Islamic profession of faith in black letters.

Some of those in attendance showed their joy by touching or grabbing the flag before it was raised.

"Today, a flag has been hoisted which is the flag of independence, peace and brotherhood, and the symbol of the rules of the Islamic system," said Hanafi.

"It is not the flag of the Taliban or the mullahs, it is the flag of the whole nation that has made sacrifices. This flag belongs to the whole of Afghanistan."

The Afghan national flag had been a black, red and green vertical tricolour with the national emblem overlaid in white, but the Taliban have ordered all government departments to display the white standard instead.

After returning to power in August, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, but restrictions have crept back -- often implemented regionally at the whim of local officials.

The flag-raising comes a week after the Taliban shut down all girls' secondary schools just hours after they allowed them to reopen for the first time since August.

In recent days, they have also barred women from flying unless accompanied by a male relative, and decreed men and women cannot visit parks in the capital on the same days.

Women are increasingly being shut out of public life -- barred from most government jobs, and ordered to dress according to the Taliban's strict interpretation of the Koran.