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Saturday, 17 November, 2001, 23:30 GMT
Laura Bush decries Taleban 'brutality'
Laura Bush making her radio address
Mrs Bush made the broadcast from the Bush's Texas ranch
Laura Bush, the wife of the United States president George Bush, has used her husband's weekly radio address to rally support against the Taleban.

Mrs Bush said she wanted to launch a worldwide effort to highlight what she called the Taleban's "brutal oppression" of women.

The plight of women and children in Afghanistan is a matter of deliberate human cruelty carried out by those who seek to intimidate and control

Laura Bush
She is the first wife of a president to deliver the whole of the weekly radio address, and correspondents say that up until now she has played a low-key role, in contrast to her predecessor Hillary Clinton.

The campaign is designed to ensure that women's rights are a top priority for any new government that emerges in Afghanistan.

The wife of the British prime minister, Cherie Blair, is due to continue the theme within the next few days.

Oppression and fear

"Only the terrorists and the Taleban forbid education to women. Only the terrorists and the Taleban threaten to pull out women's fingernails for wearing nail polish," Mrs Bush said.

"The plight of women and children in Afghanistan is a matter of deliberate human cruelty carried out by those who seek to intimidate and control," she added.

The Taleban regime "is now in retreat across much of the country, and the people of Afghanistan, especially women, are rejoicing," Mrs Bush said.

Afghan woman in her burqa
Afghan women were denied education

"Afghan women know, through hard experience, what the rest of the world is discovering: The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists."

According to a report from the US State Department since taking Afghanistan's capital Kabul in 1996, the Taleban has prohibited schooling for girls over age 8, shut down the women's university, and forced women to quit their jobs.

The Taleban also restricted access to medical care for women and limited the ability of women to move about freely, the report said.

"With one of the world's worst human rights records, the Taleban has perpetrated egregious acts of violence against women, including rape, abduction and forced marriage," the report said.

Shared guilt

But Amnesty International has said that the US-aided Northern Alliance and other Afghan opposition groups also have committed "heinous abuses" against women.

Mrs Bush was keen to emphasise that her address was not aimed at Muslim nations as a whole.

"Islam is a religion that respects women and humanity," the report stated.

Earlier this month, Mrs Bush, who is said to wield enormous influence over her husband, held a lengthy televised news conference which led many commentators to praise her accomplished performance.

Correspondents say that Mrs Bush's more prominent official role reflects the White House view that while the military campaign seems to be going largely according to plan, the battle for public opinion in the US still has yet to be won.

See also:

16 Nov 01 | UK Politics
First ladies back Afghan women
13 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan women find new freedom
25 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghan women speak out
27 Jun 01 | South Asia
Inside Afghanistan: Behind the veil
11 Jul 01 | South Asia
UN urges Taleban to help women
16 Nov 01 | Film
Afghan film is worldwide hit
08 Jan 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Afghanistan: Through veiled eyes
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