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Friday, December 18, 1998 Published at 12:46 GMT

World: South Asia

Bangladeshi women protest against Islamists

All women anti-extremist rallies are rare in Bangladesh

Thousands of Bangladeshi women have staged a rally in the capital, Dhaka, to protest against Islamic extremists who attacked a women's procession earlier this month, injuring 150 people.

The extremists - mainly Islamic students and teachers - are opposed to the participation of women in celebrations to mark the country's struggle for independence.

Speakers at the rally on Friday called on the authorities to punish the Islamic students and teachers who attacked women in the eastern town of Brahmmanbaria 10 days ago.

They also urged an end to funding of Islamic schools which, they said, opposed the principle of secular education and taught men that Muslim women should not go out to work.

The BBC correspondent in Dhaka says that it is not rare for Bangladeshi women to protest against violations of their rights but, he says, Friday's rally was a direct challenge to the Islamic extremists.

Challenge to extremism

The rally was organised by women's groups and some of the non-governmental organisations who have upset fundamentalists by helping millions of poor Bangladeshi women to start small businesses.

Islamic groups have issued fatwas, or religious injunctions, calling for the closure of two of the biggest organisations which target poor women, the internationally acclaimed Grameen Bank and BRAC.

Khushi Kabir, one of the speakers at the rally, said:"In this day and this age at this stage this cannot go unchallenged.

That's basically what this protest was about and it will continue."

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