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Rebels controlling northern Mali say the playing of football is a religious taboo and must be prohibited for the sake of spiritual sanity in the region

Rebels and Islamists controlling the north of Mali have imposed a strict ban on the playing of football and watching it on television, as part of new religious reforms they say will purge the region of profanity.

The group installed the sharia law on May 22 in their stronghold of Timbuktu, one of Mali’s most important cities. Smoking, shaving and chatting with the opposite sex have also been prohibited.

“We have never heard from any Muslim or from the Koran that the sharia law forbids the playing and watching of football. This is very terrible,” Ahmed Mariko told Goal.com on telephone.

“We have young footballers here whose dream is to go and play in European clubs. Our kids can no longer play football in the backyard. We can no longer watch our teams play during the weekend,” he said.

A military coup in March deposed Mali’s democratically elected president Ahmadou Toumani Toure, plunging the arid west African country into an unprecedented political crisis, with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) declaring the secession of a new state and the junta still reluctant to hand over power to a regional-backed transitional government.

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