Tajikistan bans miniskirts and head scarves

Dushanbe, Tajikistan - Tajik education authorities have introduced a new dress code for young people that reinforces a ban on Islamic head scarves but also bars girls from wearing revealing Western clothing.

Abdudjabor Rakhmonov, the education minister, said: "The hijab [head scarf] is not a student's uniform. If religion means more to you than studies, you should study at a religious school."

Speaking to a group of students at Tajik State University, Mr Rakhmonov told young women that they should dress "in accordance with their status and national traditions", and said they should avoid clothes that are "provocative". He said the ministry would be distributing guidelines for a new dress code.

The central Asian nation is constitutionally a secular country, but more than 90 per cent of the population is Muslim. The education ministry introduced a ban on hijab in 2005, but a few students have consistently challenged the ban, turning up to lectures in Muslim head scarves only to be turned away.

A UN-brokered power-sharing agreement ended the violent 1992-1997 civil war between the secular government and the Islamic opposition.

The influence of pro-Islamic politicians in the former Soviet republic of 5 million, which borders Afghanistan, has weakened in recent years as Emomali Rakhmon, the Tajik president, has tightened his grip on power, but the government continues to grapple with the spread of various radical Islamic ideologies.

Last month, authorities in the capital, Dushanbe, launched a crackdown on dozens of illegal mosques, fearing they could foment extremism.

In March Mr Rakhmon also banned high school graduation parties, saying he was concerned about the "pompous" and "excessive luxury" of school festivities. Earlier, he ordered a ban on the use of mobile phones and private cars at high schools.

Mr Rakhmon has ruled impoverished Tajikistan since 1994, and was re-elected last year in an election that foreign observers said was flawed.