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DHAKA (AFP) - Lovestruck and affluent young Asians are rushing to make a show of their affections this Valentine's Day (news - web sites) by showering their sweethearts with flowers, chocolates and candle-lit dinners.

 

 

From Muslim Bangladesh to communist China people of all creeds are increasingly embracing the traditions of February 14, even though it is a Christian festival which honours the Catholic patron saint of lovers.

 

But while the tokens of love exchanged are styled on those commonly used in the West, the religious origins of the day are often conveniently -- or deliberately -- forgotten.

 

Most participants around Asia seem glad simply to have a day in which they can celebrate romance and make an outward show of affection, especially in some of the region's more conservative cultures.

 

 

"I think it is good because it gives you a chance to express your love for each other," said Matthew Halder, 23, a student in mostly Muslim Bangladesh, where the majority of marriages are arranged and young couples have to be chaperoned by watchful relatives.

 

 

Awareness of western trends and lifestyle has been growing in the country since the introduction of satellite television in the early-1990s, and youngsters are keen to emulate their screen heroes by exercising greater freedom in love and courtship.

 

"People have been celebrating Valentine's Day for about five or six years now," said Halder, 23, who marked the day early with an exchange of roses, chocolates and a romantic lunch with his girlfriend Borna Sarkar, 21, a fellow student in the capital Dhaka.

 

 

"It all started when satellite television came to Bangladesh for the first time. People became aware of it and they like it," Halder said.

 

 

Some young people in Pakistan are also getting into the spirit of the day, swapping roses and organising balls, but most have to show their affection in secret.

 

Religious leaders oppose the celebration, saying that the Western practice of sending cards and roses to one's lover contravenes Islamic ideology.

 

The fundamentalist Jamaat-i-Islami party has even demanded a ban on the celebrations, dubbing it a "shameful day".

 

In India Hindu hardliners are also vehemently against the festival, with trident-wielding activists warning that they will prowl the streets of main cities on Monday to punish those indulging in the "disgraceful behaviour of celebrating Valentine's Day".

 

 

Although India is the land that gave us the erotic Kama Sutra, Valentine's Day is celebrated mainly by the urban elite, egged on by Indian businesses looking to make a quick buck.

 

 

Firms are trying to entice young couples to splash out on an array of romance-enhancers such as mobile phone love games, electronic kisses, jewellery, chocolates and special foods to heighten love.

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