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Monday, March 8, 1999 Published at 21:17 GMT

World: South Asia

Islamists condemn women's role

Many Bangladeshi women eke out a living on the streets

By David Chazan in Dhaka

Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh held a rally in the capital on Monday protesting against the participation of women in non-governmental organisations.

The Association of Religious Teachers and Clerics say they will no longer allow non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to hold any public meetings involving women.

The organisation made the announcement after the rally in Dhaka, which coincided with International Women's Day celebrations in other parts of the capital.

The fundamentalist rally was an all-male event. Many of the bearded young men in long shirts and Muslim caps were students from Koranic schools. One speaker told the crowd: "We're all Taleban because we're all Islamic students."

Some aid workers say a threat of violence underlies the fundamentalist declaration that they will not let NGOs hold public meetings involving women.

The Association of Clerics and Islamic Teachers which made the announcement, however, insists that it is a non-violent organisation.

Bomb attack at festival

But 150 people were injured in December when fundamentalists attacked rallies organised by development agencies because women were taking part.

[ image: Victim of Sunday's explosions]
Victim of Sunday's explosions
A month later a famous secular poet was assaulted by Muslim militants. And on Sunday two explosions which police said were caused by bombs killed eight people at a cultural festival.

No-one has admitted carrying out that attack, but some aid workers and cultural figures have been quick to blame fundamentalist groups.

Islamists in traditionally secular Bangladesh have had relatively little political support in the past.

But now they seem to be more vocal than before and there have been unconfirmed reports of Bangladeshi veterans of the Afghan war being armed and funded by the Saudi militant Osama bin Laden.

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