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Shiite Muslims in Mideast mark solemn holy day of Ashoura

shiiteTEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Millions of Shiite Muslims — from Iran to Afghanistan and Pakistan — were marking the festival of Ashoura on Monday, one of the most emotional occasions in their religious calendar, commemorating the 7th century martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein.

Security forces, particularly in Taliban-run Afghanistan, were on high alert for any violence. In the past, bloody attacks have marred the festival across in the Middle East, as Sunni extremists who view the Shiites as heretics seize on the holy day to target large gatherings of mourners.

Shiite Muslims were to mark the holy day on Tuesday in Iraq and also in Lebanon, where a major procession typically shuts down Beirut’s biggest suburb. With power split in Lebanon among the country’s religious sects, Ashoura presents an opportunity for Lebanon’s Shiites to show force.

In the Iraqi city of Karbala, where Hussein is entombed in a gold-domed shrine, religious charities laid out vats of rice, bread and beans to feed the pilgrims. Thousands typically rush toward the shrine to symbolize their desire to answer Hussein’s last cries for help in battle.

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