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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 May, 2005, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
Laura Bush urges Arab women role
Laura Bush addressing the conference
Laura Bush is passionate about women's rights and education
US First Lady Laura Bush has urged Middle Eastern leaders to expand women's roles in their societies.

Mrs Bush made the remarks in Jordan, during a conference which is discussing change in the Middle East.

"Freedom, especially freedom for women, is more than the absence of oppression," she said. "It's the right to speak and vote and worship freely."

Mrs Bush hailed progress made in the Middle East and spoke of a "springtime of hope" across the region.

But she focused mainly on women's rights and education.

Women who have not yet won these rights are watching
Laura Bush

"Human rights require the rights of women," she told the gathering.

"In my country, women didn't secure the right to vote until more than a century after its founding," she said, hailing Kuwait's recent decision to extend the right to vote to women.

"Women who have not yet won these rights are watching," Mrs Bush said - a muted reference to Saudi Arabia which still bans women from voting, correspondents say.

Jordanians sceptical

Throughout this conference, US officials have been stressing their commitment to spreading democracy and freedom across the Middle East.

Supporters of the amendment allowing women to vote celebrate
Kuwaiti women were the latest to be given the right to vote

Liz Cheney, the state department official in charge of the programme, told the BBC that the US was committed to a dramatic change in its policy after 60 years of supporting the status quo in the region.

Ordinary Jordanians are still deeply sceptical of those commitments, says the BBC's John Leyne.

Many see this conference as merely a way to improve access for western business and to increase American and Israeli influence across the Middle East, our correspondent says.

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