No red roses for Saudi sweethearts

RIYADH Mon Feb 11, 2008 1:18pm EST

1 of 3. A shop assistant holds bouquets of flowers inside a shop in Riyadh February 11, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Fahad Shadeed

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RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's religious police have banned red roses ahead of Valentine's Day, forcing couples in the conservative Muslim nation to think of new ways to show their love.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has ordered florists and gift shop owners in the capital Riyadh to remove any items colored scarlet, which is widely seen as symbolizing love, newspapers said.

"They visited us last night," the Saudi Gazette quoted an unidentified florist as saying.

It is not unusual for the Saudi vice squad to clamp down ahead of Valentine's Day, which it sees as encouraging relations between men and women outside of wedlock, the newspaper said.

Saudi Arabia imposes an austere form of Sunni Islam which prevents unrelated men and women from mixing, bans women from driving and demands that women wear a headscarf and a cloak.

Relations outside marriage are strictly banned and punishable by law.

(Reporting by Souhail Karam; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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