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(28 Apr 1997) Arabic/Nat

There are few leaders in the world who celebrate their birthdays in such grand style.

In Iraq, Sunday was marked by nation-wide extravaganza on the occasion of President Saddam Hussein's 60th birthday.

With banners of loyalty and life-size images of Saddam Hussein adorning Iraq's capital, Iraqis began seven days of festivities.

On the President's birthday, it has become a custom not to work in Iraq.

The day is not an official holiday but, since the government started marking Saddam's birthday during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, most of the government departments and schools shut down for the festivities.

Nation-wide celebrations were held to commemorate the 60th birthday in Baghdad and other provinces.

Since the early morning hours, thousands of Iraqis poured into the streets of the capital wishing their leader a very happy birthday.

Streets were decorated with portraits, flags, colourful lights and banners in support of Saddam Hussein and demanding an end to seven years of U-N sanctions.

The United Nations imposed an embargo on Iraq following the end of the Gulf War in 1991.

All over the streets, loudspeakers shouted out: "Blessed be your birthday, our beloved leader. May God add from our age to yours."

Saddam has been in power since 1979. Since then, he's led his nation through two wars -- the eight-year conflict with Iran and the invasion of Kuwait in 1991.

Celebrations had begun already on Saturday, when the Bedouin Poetry and Dancing Festival was opened at the Grand Parade Square.

The festival inaugurated by Culture and Information Minister Hamid Yousif Hummadi, includes Bedouin poetry reading and folk dancing.

Even some devoted citizens got married on this very special day for the Iraqi people.

Despite the U-N embargo and the limited food resources, the government offered birthday cakes.

At another festival, young school children in traditional Arab and Kurdish costumes danced and sung in praise of the Iraqi leader, while government and party officials and tribal chieftains marched in processions touting banners.

" We tell the world that we are with our leader Saddam Hussein towards victory. And there is no power in the world that will make the Iraqi people give up their rights as sovereignty, independence and freedom."
SUPER CAPTION: Latif Nsayyif Jassim

Saddam himself did not show up in the ceremonies to mark his birthday which the government media highlighted as " the actual birth of the Arab nation."

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