Afghans give fresh start to killing field

Kabul

Its pitch was so bloodsoaked that grass would not grow, they said. For years, the only spectacles on offer at the Ghazi Stadium in Kabul were executions, stonings and mutilations by the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

Then yesterday, thousands of young Afghan athletes wearing football strips, boxing gear and the belted white suits of martial artists came to the stadium to celebrate its re-opening. The grass had been ripped up and replaced with bright green artificial turf, part of a US-funded stadium refurbishment.

"Of all the international projects implemented in Afghanistan, this is one of the most popular, it enjoys the support of all Afghans," Lieutenant-General Mohammad Zahir Akhbar, president of Afghanistan's National Olympic Committee, said. "Sport helps societies get together, it will strengthen our national solidarity."

He added that he was trying to line up foreign boxing and football teams to come to Ghazi Stadium in early 2012. The new artificial pitch will be certified by the world football governing body Fifa, allowing matches in the Kabul stadium to be internationally recognised.

As athletes began to parade around the stadium, Zabiullah, a 58-year-old Afghan journalist who witnessed the Taliban executions, pointed at what is now the corner of a penalty area, marked by neat white lines. "There was a thief who stole something from his village... they cut his hand, right here," he said.

"I also saw people beheaded and shot. Afghans will never forget these bad memories. Now, men and women, girls and boys, can watch a peaceful match together."

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