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Iraqi students protest day off on Jewish Sabbath
By The Associated press

As published on Haaretz I nternational

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqis are complaining about their first-ever weekend break, and some high-school students even went to class Saturday to protest a decision introducing a second weekly day off that coincides with the Jewish Sabbath.

It's not that the Iraqis do not want time off - they just want the extra day moved to Thursday.

''We don't want Saturday! It's a Jewish holiday!" students chanted as they marched in protest last week to the governor's office in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

A high-school student pulled out a hand grenade and started waving it, and police fired into the air to disperse the crowd. At least three students reportedly were injured in the ensuing scuffle.

At Baghdad's University of Mustansariyah, a statement issued by a student union believed to be allied with the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-sadr described Saturday as ''the Zionist holiday'' and said the government order should not be followed.

''We declare a general strike in the University of Mustansariyah to reject this decision and any decision aimed at depriving Iraqis of their identity" the statement said.

In predominantly Sunni Muslim Ramada, 60 miles north of Baghdad, the al-Mutawakal high school opened its doors after insurgents threatened to kill its teachers if they took the day off.

There is no clear-cut rule for weekends in the Middle East and other Muslim countries in the region.

In Lebanon the weekend starts at 11:30 am. Friday and Includes Sunday.

In Jordan, the weekend is Friday and Saturday. Bahrain, Egypt and Kuwait have Thursday and Friday off, while conservative Iran and Saudi Arabia only give Friday off.
In many Baghdad districts, including Shiite- dominated Sadr City, students and civil servants ignored the decree and went to school and work. At Sadr City's al-Fazilah secondary girls school, all 400 girls showed up for class.

''Sadr City is a Shiite Islamic city and we reject Saturday being our holiday because it is related to the Jewish weekend," said student union leader Safaa Dawoud Mahmoud, 18.

The student body delivered a letter to the school's administrators demanding that Thursday and Friday be the official weekend ''because both days were blessed in Islam and by sharia," or Islamic law.

The students, dressed in long skirts with their hair covered by dense black veils, vowed to stage sit-ins until the government reverses its decision and makes Thursday the first day of a two-day weekend.

''We will keep going to school with determination and persistence'' on Saturday, sixth-grader Nassen Dawoud said.

''We can't be like Jews. Saturday is a Jewish holiday and I hope the government listens to us" sixth- grader Nada Alwan, said.

The influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, believed to be close to the insurgency, said that by making Saturday a weekend ''the invaders, the occupiers are trying to impose their principles'' on Iraq.

''This decision is dangerous" it said.

In Samarra, one teacher said on condition of anonymity that he had received death threats from militants warning him not to take Saturdays off.

In Ramadi, the heart of the insurgency in the so- called Sunni Triangle, the head of Anbar University decided to range the weekend on its own.

''The official weekend is Thursday and Friday" the university announced.



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