TASHKENT - Uzbekistan Tuesday encouraged people to skip Valentine’s Day in favour of marking the birthday of a national poet, with officials describing the February 14 lovers day as an “alien” Western import. Rather than sending cards and exchanging red hearts, Uzbeks instead were holding readings and poetic festivals to mark the birthday of the medieval emperor and poet Bobur. There was no official decree or law to ban Valentine’s Day, but there was a verbal instruction not to mark or mention it in mass media as a holiday, according to an official.  Zahiriddin Muhammad Bobur, born on February 14 more than five centuries ago in Andijan, in the east of Uzbekistan.

Bobur, a descendant of another Turkic emperor Amur Temur, was also a great poet.

Valentine’s Day has become popular among youth in Muslim Uzbekistan in recent years, worrying the secular government of ex-Soviet Central Asia’s most populous nation about Western cultural imports.

A concert by Uzbek pop star Rayhon, traditionally held on February 14 to mark the lovers’ day in Tashkent’s main concert hall, was postponed and replaced with another event

Unlike last year, private TV channels, radios and papers made no mention of Valentine’s Day, but some young people continued to greet each other to mark the day.

One of the biggest supermarket chains in the capital Tashkent “Korzinka.uz” placed a red-yellow picture of the heart at the entrances of its shops without any mentioning of Valentine’s Day.

Its largest store had a big sign of the heart made of flowerpots on the floor.

Uzbekistan’s government is wary of cultural imports both from the the West as an “excess of liberalism” and from the Middle East as an “religious fanaticism”.