Afghan pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai stays shut after Taliban takeover

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Hours after the world expo fair opened in Dubai on Friday, Afghanistan’s exhibition remained closed to visitors in a sign of the challenges facing the country’s new Taliban rulers.

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Afghanistan is one of nearly 200 nations participating in the six-month fair that was awarded to Dubai eight years ago and faced a year-long delay to the start due to the pandemic.

But the country’s pavilion, which was organized by the previous Afghan government before it was driven from power by the Taliban last month, remained unfinished and closed to visitors on Friday.

A security guard at the building where the pavilion is located said they had not seen anyone work there in weeks.

It was not immediately clear whether the pavilion, listed on signage around the 4.3 sq kilometer (1.7 sq mile) purpose-built site, would open at a later date during the expo fair.

An Expo representative told Reuters that Afghanistan was “one of a small number of pavilions that are not quite ready to open,” without saying when the exhibition would open.

The representative referred further comment to the Afghan pavilion “team” but did not say who that was. The former Afghan government was responsible for the exhibition when it was in office.

The Dubai government and the United Arab Emirates foreign ministry did not respond to Reuters queries.

Expo officials have previously stressed that the event is apolitical.

The Taliban government has so far failed to gain international recognition and its all-male government has faced Western criticism since the militia seized control of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of foreign forces.

During the Expo opening ceremony on Thursday, the tri-color flag of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was displayed among flags of other participating nations.

The Taliban refer to their country as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and use a different flag.

The UAE, a close ally of the US, is hosting Afghanistan’s former president, Ashraf Ghani. The Gulf state was also one of only three countries to recognize the Taliban government when they last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

Despite the pavilion’s closure, crowds still gathered outside it on Friday - but in order to enter an outlet of the popular Saudi fast food chain Al Baik housed in the same building.

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