TEHRAN, Iran -- Cupid, drop the bow.
That's the word from Iranian police, who have ordered shops to remove heart-and-flower decorations and have confiscated other symbols of what religious authorities consider a decadent, Western event -- Valentine's Day.
The vice police on Wednesday sealed several shops in wealthy north Tehran and ordered others to remove images of couples embracing or other "corrupt materials" from display windows.
In ultraconservative Iran, public embracing between men and women is taboo while Valentine's Day and all its trappings are seen as promoting Western values.
"Vice police gave me 48 hours Monday to close," said angry shopkeeper Hamid Mahdavi. "Having my shop closed Thursday means that I would go bankrupt."
A written notice issued by plainclothes officers warned the store owner that he had to remove all cards and other staples of the holiday from his Tina Card shop.
"This is all heart-themed cards. Is this corruption?" Mahdavi said while his assistant continued to sell the banned items to young customers.
The holiday crackdown, apparently the first since the 1979 Islamic revolution, drew scorn from shoppers. Some saw the effort as further proof that the regime is out of touch with the people
"It's only rigidity and cultural backwardness," said Fariba Sabet, buying a card with a red heart and rose for her son-in-law."Through the crackdown, they only buy people's greater hatred and enmity."
Mahdavi said the store closures appeared to be a response to an increase in young people showing interest in celebrating the holiday.
The crackdown seemed to be limited to wealthy north Tehran, a posh area whose citizens are more exposed to Western culture than the rest of the city and are more likely to adopt what the Iranian establishment sees as unIslamic trends.
At one shop, the window was filled with stuffed animals and a heart-shaped pillow embroidered with the words "I love you" in English.
Iran faces an internal struggle between hard-liners and reformists, who back President Mohammed Khatami's program of social and political freedoms.
Valentine's Day and its tradition of exchanging gifts with the opposite sex contradicts conservative morals in a country where contact between unrelated men and women is strongly discouraged.
"For weeks, I've been waiting for Valentine's Day to offer my boyfriend a gift of love and affection," said Atena, a 19-year old girl. She refused to give her last name. "The crackdown only strengthens my position in rejecting the hard-line clerical rule."
Another shopkeeper said cafes in north Tehran have been ordered to refuse to host Valentine's parties or risk prosecution. He refused to give his name, fearing police revenge.