(iaaette WORLD Tuesday, October 29, 2002 — Page 9 Fun is back Post-Taliban Afghans playing snooker, video games By CHRIS BRUMMITT Associated Press Writer KANDAHAR, Afghanistan— The felt has seen greener days, and the cushions have lost some of their zing. But the state of the tables is of little concern to the patrons of Ariana Snooker Club in Kan- dahar, who are just happy to play a frame or two of their favorite sport. In the last five months, four snooker halls have opened up in this southern Afghan city, which, as the birthplace and headquarters of the Taliban movement, suffered a crackdown on fun more than anywhere else in the country. The hardline militia banned snooker, the forerunner to American-style pool, and a'host of other activities during its five-year reign. Now, local entrepreneurs want to capitalize on long-suppressed demand, and snooker isn't the only thing making a comeback. Kids cram into dozens of hole-in-the-wall video game parlors on their way home from school. A few cafes even offer table football games. Sales of TVs, satellite dishes and stereos are also rocketing. Ali were harmed by the Taliban, which was ousted last year by a U.S.- led coalition. The Ariana, like most buildings in the city, has suffered from years of war and neglect. Its grubby whitewashed walls are crumbling, and several large holes pock the floor. "Our customers don't care about the playing environment," Ariana's manager, Raz Mohammad, told a visiting reporter after first watching him squarely beaten by the club's resident expert. "They want to play." The club was the first to open in the city of some 800,000 people. It has just two half-sized tables, which are slightly larger than a regular American pool table. The equipment is imported from neighboring Pakistan. The green cloth that covers the tables is faded, and the cushions are held together with tape in some sections. The familiar sounds of the game — the click of ball on ball and the thwack of a well-potted shot — are largely drowned out by a stereo blasting out Indian film soundtracks, something also banned by die Taliban. The Taliban enforced its version of Islam through a network of "Virtue and Vice Squads" The squads forced shopkeepers to dose during prayer time, and raided shops looking for videotape movies and other manifestations of "vice." They enforced bans on girls' schools, on television, on card-playing and gambling. Even kite-flying was prohibited. Soccer was allowed, so long as players covered their legs and the game did not run into prayer time. Rozi Mohammad, who runs a tiny video game parlor that caters mostly to children from the school opposite, said it was a "crazy system." "These games do no 'harm, so long as they are used in moderation," he said through the racket of electronic explosions arid the cries of his customers. "Al-Qaida!" one excited boy shouted as he blew up a huge tank that loomed out of one corner of an old-style shoot-em-up game. Snooker is a quieter hobby. It was invented by the British at the end of the 19th century and became a favorite pastime of the ruling classes. Like cricket, British officers spread the game to their colonies. Most Afghans picked it up in Pakistan, where millions fled to escape years of civil war and Taliban rule. Many have since returned, buoyed by hopes of peace. Nusa Jan, one of the club's self-proclaimed expert players, practices most days for an hour or so after he finishes work at the small hardware shop he runs in the city's bazaar. He is a big fan of the new government of President Hamid Karzai and the freedom it has brought. "Everything is now allowed," he said. "The country is getting better day by day." There is a murmur of agreement across the room. From across the table, his playing partner jokes: "Soon there will be a disco club In the city!" In the last five months, four snooker halls have opened in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. (AP photo) Arafat's new Cabinet expected to win OK RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Yasser Arafat presented a new Cabinet today and said he remains committed to internal reform, but he accused Israel of demanding change in his government as a pretext for destroying the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians' parliament was expected to approve the 19-member Cabinet, even though it closely resembles the Cabinet that legislators forced to resign earlier this month. "We need Palestinian reform that helps Palestinian objectives," Arafat told legislators. "The Israeli government is using the reform issue as a way of destroying the Palestinian Authority." In a wide-ranging speech, Arafat also reiterated that he opposes attacks on civilians, whether Palestinians or Israelis. "We believe that everybody has.a right to live. We do condemn terrorist attacks, which target civilians, everywhere in the world," he said. Israel accuses Arafat of having done nothing to prevent attacks by Palestinian militias or even encouraging s ome ac is of terro r. Palestinian officials say a fledgling challenge to Arafat's power by Palestinian politicians was crushed by Israel's 10-day siege of Arafat's headquarters — in the wake of a deadly suicide bombing in Israel September — and by repeated U.S. and Israeli demands that Arafat be sidelined. In meetings with rebellious legislators, Arafat has portrayed a vote against his government as a show of support for Israel and the United States. Meanwhile, the growing dispute over West Bank settlements is threatening to bring down Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's coalition government and force early elections. Sharon has said he will try to form a narrow coalition of right-wing and religious parties if his junior partner, the moderate Labor party, votes against the 2003 state budget Wednesday, as expected, to protest what it sees as excessive spending on settlements. Fire in Vietnam kills 48 HO CHI MINI! CITY, Vietnam (AP) —A large fire raged through a building that houses offices of foreign companies, shops and a popular disco in Ho Chi Minh City today, killing at least 48 people and injuring more than 100, officials and news reports said. At least one unidentified foreign man was among the fatalities, and six staff members of an American insurance company were missing, the officials said. Though the blaze was largely put down by the early evening, four hours after it broke out, intense heat from the remaining flames prevented firefighters from entering the six- story building. They said they believed dozens more people could be trapped inside. At least one person could be seen at a window trying to summon res- cuers, but firefighters said they did not have the necessary equipment to reach him. Flames raged at other windows. The International Trading Center building has several floors of shops and about 50 offices. The American International Assurance Co. was conducting a training program in the building for about 100 of its insurance agents when the fire began, said a company official who identified herself only as Tien. Six staff members were missing and about 30 were injured. "A bell rang, and then the electricity cut off," she said. "The fire came very fast." A wedding reception was also being held in the building, Ho Chi Minh City Television said. It said about 500 people were inside when the fire broke out. "I get the whole story when I'm ready... I like that" Call 724-465-5555 for home delivery You don't hire almost as good" employees. 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