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Ayatollah checkmates chess-players in central Iranian city

TEHRAN, Iran, January 18, 2000 (AFP) - Chess players in the central Iranian city of Kashan were aghast when their local ayatollah issued a religious decree or fatwa against their favourite game, the daily newspaper Arya said Tuesday.

The fatwa, issued by Ayatollah Jafar Saburi, has had "a negative impact on the Kashan population and their religious life," chess association chairman Ali Hashemi-Tehrani was quoted as saying.

The municipality, he complained, "does not want chess boards in the parks any more."

But, "the annual budget of our association is only some 100,000 rials (13 dollars), not even enough for us to buy several sets of pawns," he added.

Banned because it was seen as a "royal game" and "militaristic" from the 1979 Islamic revolution until the middle of the 1980s, the game of chess has today been rehabilitated in the Islamic republic. Both men and women can play the game, although they are not allowed to play one another.

Iran claims to have invented chess and it has always been very popular in the country.