Pakistan's cultural festival puts Mohenjo-daro ruins at risk

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Pakistan's cultural festival puts Mohenjo-daro ruins at risk

Pakistani workers prepare a stage around the ancient ruins ahead of the cultural heritage festival in Mohenjo Daro.

Mohenjo-daro:  Hundreds of people arrived at the ancient ruined city of Mohenjo-daro on Saturday to attend an inaugural festival aimed at commemorating Pakistan's cultural heritage.

Spearheaded by the Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the two-week festival is part of a campaign to conserve the heritage of his home province of Sindh.

But experts warned the festival could put Mohenjo-daro, a UNESCO World Heritage site built around 2600 BC, in danger.

Large wooden and steel scaffolding has been erected over and around the ruin, which UNESCO describes as "the most ancient and best-preserved ruin on the Indian subcontinent", while heavy spotlights and lasers have been installed for a light show.

The site has been transformed into a high security facility, with hundreds of police commandos surrounding the ruins and stood atop the stupa, a Buddhist shrine, as workers hammered nails into a stage, an AFP reporter at the site said.

"We have done all the work very much to international conservation standards," Saqib Soomro, a top official at the culture department, told AFP.

Zardari, clad in a black jacket over an off-white traditional Pakistani shalwar qameez dress, arrived Saturday in a caravan of four vehicles.

A number of foreign visitors, some wearing traditional Sindhi Ajrak outfits, were also among the approximately 1,000 guests waiting for the grand gala to begin.

Performers queued up to pass through security gates, with an equally large number of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) top leaders also waiting for entry.

The PPP, led by Zardari, suffered a heavy defeat in the 2013 general election and observers say the cultural gala, which has been advertised for weeks on national television, is partly aimed at raising the 25-year-old's political profile.

The ruins, discovered in 1922 by British archaeologist Sir John Marshall, are 425 kilometres (265 miles) north of the port city of Karachi and are one of the largest settlements of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

They are one of Pakistan's six UNESCO World Heritage sites that are deemed places of special cultural significance.

But many of the country's historical sites are endangered by vandalism and urban encroachment, as well as a booming trade in illegally excavated treasures.

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