updated 2/23/2008 2:17:51 PM ET 2008-02-23T19:17:51

Saudi Arabia began interrogating 57 men Saturday who were arrested for flirting with women in front of a shopping mall in the holy city of Mecca, a local newspaper reported.

The country's religious police arrested the men Thursday night for behavior that also allegedly included dancing to pop music blaring from their cars and wearing improper clothing, reported the Okaz newspaper, which is deemed close to the government.

Saturday's newspaper report did not say what kind of outfits the young men were wearing, but T-shirts emblazoned with drawings or English writing are often an invitation for harassment by the religious police. Islamic radicals also consider pop music a corrupting force.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice runs the fearsome religious police, which is charged with enforcing Saudi Arabia's strict Islamic lifestyle. Its members patrol public places to make sure women are covered and not wearing make up, the sexes don't mingle, shops close five times a day for Muslim prayers and men go to the mosque and worship.

The police, informally known as the muttawa (literally "enforcer"), don't wear uniforms, but are recognizable by their long beards and their robes, shorter than the ones normally worn by Saudi men. They also shun the black cord that sits atop the headdress worn by most Saudi men.

Women in Saudi Arabia are required to wear a long, enveloping black cloak called an abaya and cover their hair with a headscarf.

The newspaper report said the men who were arrested Thursday could be released if they could prove they did not flirt with any women. Otherwise, they will be transferred to court and stand trial, the paper added.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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