Authorities block colours festival in southern Iraq

BASRA, Iraq - Authorities blocked a colours festival in southern Iraq, using concrete barriers to close off the park where it was to be held, an AFP journalist reported.

The festival in the port city of Basra would have followed one in Baghdad in which grinning young people dressed in white shirts gathered and covered each other in clouds of coloured powder and engaged in a massive water fight.

The Baghdad event - which approximated a tiny version of the yearly Indian Holi festival - drew fire from conservatives for the mixing of men and women.

Murtada al-Shahmani, a member of the Basra provincial council, couched the decision as respecting the families mourning those killed fighting the Islamic State jihadist group.

People "without conscience or hearts or morals come to hold mixed-sex festivals that bring them out to be joyful, and the families of the martyrs see them and weep for their children," Shahmani said.

But moving beyond the tears and sorrow in a country that has had little enough to celebrate was the point of the festival.

"We are trying to make our young people forget the violence," organiser Nabil Muslim said, complaining of restrictions by religious authorities.

"Now, I am not able to leave my house out of fear for myself," said Muslim, who is 21.

"What was done by the authorities is a restriction on the personal liberties of the young people," he said.

"They want to return us to the time of dictatorship."