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Thursday, 17 January, 2002, 17:55 GMT
Pakistani women seek more poll reforms
Pakistani girls in traditional dress
The government says reforms will encourage women in political system
Women's rights activists in Pakistan have criticised the country's military government for not reserving "enough" seats for women in the national assembly - the lower house of the country's parliament.

The federal cabinet presided over by the President, Pervez Musharraf, on Wednesday introduced electoral reforms abolishing separate election system for the country's non-Muslim minorities.

The government also raised the number of seats in the national assembly from 217 to 350, reserving 60 of these seats for women who will be elected indirectly.

The government said the idea was to encourage women in political system which in which women and the less well-off are poorly represented. But women groups are unhappy as they have been demanding more than 100 seats and the provision of direct election.

Review sought

Eleven women groups issued a joint statement in the city of Quetta asking the government to review its decision.

A policeman stands guard at a Catholic church in Lahore
Religious minorities have welcomed the reforms

They said the announcement falls short of their expectations and the recommendations made by several official committees.

They are also objecting to the minimum academic qualification of a university graduate as an eligibility for those willing to contest elections.

Welcome change

The electoral reforms have gone down well with Pakistan's religious minorities who make up 5% of the population.

The religious minorities, which include Christians and Hindus, will now contest elections under the same system as the majority Muslim community.

Minority members were earlier allowed to vote only for the candidates from their own communities.

The chief of a Christian human rights group said the decision was encouraging for the minorities and would improve relations between followers of different faiths.

"Now we feel more secure and confident", Shahbaz Bhatti, the head of the Christian Liberation Front told Reuters news agency.

See also:

29 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's Christian minority
28 Oct 01 | South Asia
Christians massacred in Pakistan
23 Mar 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Waiting for democracy
23 Mar 00 | South Asia
Profile: General Pervez Musharraf
12 Jan 02 | South Asia
Musharraf declares war on extremism
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