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A council of Muslim leaders in Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod region released a statement Wednesday calling for a “ban” on celebrating Valentine’s Day, which is growing in popularity in Russia although it is not an official holiday.

“We call on all believers and sensible people to say no to celebrating this day, since it contradicts not only the norms of Islam, but also recognised human morality,” the statement said.

The Muslim leaders also appealed to head teachers at the region’s schools to cancel celebrations for “moral and ethical reasons.”

Little known a decade ago, Valentine’s Day is now big business in Russia, with stores selling heart-shaped trinkets and cards and restaurants laying on special menus.

In 2008 the wife of President Dmitry Medvedev, Svetlana Medvedeva, launched a rival holiday called the Day of Family, Love and Fidelity, which emphasises Orthodox Christian traditions.

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Russia’s Supreme Court has banned one of the largest Islamist separatist movements in the country’s south, branding it a terrorist group.

The Caucasus Emirate, which was founded in 2007, aims to create a Sharia state in the Caucasus region. The group has been operating for three years in Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia.

The Caucasus Emirate has claimed responsibility for several high-profile crimes in Russia, including the fatal blast that derailed the Nevsky Express train last November and the unsuccessful assassination attempt on the Ingush Pesident Yevkurov.

The organisation is lead by Doku Umarov, the most wanted terrorist in Russia.

The maximum number of the organization’s members is estimated at 1.500. Many of them are operating abroad while foreign members of the Caucasus Emirate are working in Russia.

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Head of Russia’s Mufti Council Ravil Gainutdin agreed on “mutual help and cooperation” with the HAMAS Palestinian movement, the Council’s website reports.

“Muslims of Russia take the situation in Palestine with sore heart. We speak out to condemn the policy of Israel aimed at expanding occupation of Palestinian land,” Gainutdin said on Tuesday in Moscow at the meeting with Chairman of the HAMAS political bureau Khaled Mashal.

The Movement’s delegation visited Russia on the invitation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Speaking at the meeting, Mashal called the Russian Mufti Council the “second home” for him and his associates. “Every time we come to Russia, a visit to the Mufti Council is an essential part of our program,” he said.

After a meeting, the parties conducted a prayer in the Moscow Cathedral Mosque.

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