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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 December 2003, 00:48 GMT
Afghan women demand more rights
Women delegates at loya jirga's meeting
Women delegates make about 25% of the loya jirga
Women delegates at Afghanistan's loya jirga, or grand assembly, have accused their male colleagues of trying to leave them out of leadership positions.

Many of 100 women at the gathering of over 500 assembly members also said they were greatly under-represented.

The row comes as the assembly is set to tackle a new constitution on day three of the meeting that opened on Sunday.

The gathering is the second since the Taleban fell two years ago, and comes amid rising violence in many areas.

Differences have also emerged over whether Afghanistan's presidency should be kept in check by parliament.

It is a betrayal of women
Jameela Mujahed, female delegate
Supporters of the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance spoke in favour of a parliamentary system, as opposed to the strong presidency favoured by Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai.

Kabul delegate Hafiz Mansour described as "illegal" President Karzai's appointment of 50 delegates to the council and said they should be denied voting rights.

But representatives of the Pashtuns, the country's largest ethnic group, backed the president, saying he had been given authority by the last loya jirga in June 2002.

Delegates at the meeting - set to last several weeks - include former communists, mujahideen fighters, tribal leaders and Western-based exiles.

'Second-class treatment'

"In this tent, we are 100 women against 400 men," Nadira, a female delegate from Kabul, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

Loya jirga
Delegates come from a wide variety of political, ethnic and social groups

"But we represent more than 50% of Afghan society," Nadira - who like many Afghans goes by only one name - added.

Several of her colleagues also expressed their anger of what they said was second-class treatment and betrayal of Afghan women.

The criticism came as one woman was selected to act as a deputy chairwoman at the assembly, which has three deputy chairmen.
I am very much hopeful that this loya jirga will unite Afghans
Rohullah Niazi, Afghanistan

But the appointment of Safia Sediqi came only after the new chairman, Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, broke with protocol to create the fourth deputy position.

Several women delegates said they were satisfied with such a move, but stressed they would continue to fight for Afghan women's rights that were eroded under the Taleban regime.

Taleban threat

Formally opening the loya jirga on Sunday together with President Karzai, Afghanistan's former king Zahir Shah told the delegates: "The people are relying on you and you should not forget them."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Karzai pledged to fight Taleban to the end

President Karzai laid down a challenge to militants - the Taleban and their allies have threatened to target the assembly.

"Bring as many rockets, bombs and guns as you have," he said.

"We will fight you, resist you and we'll keep our people safe from you because we have God, the people and the government on our side."

Strong presidency?

The loya jirga is a key element of a United Nations-supervised two-year plan to stabilise the country following the ousting of the Taleban.

Delegates are discussing a 160-article draft document. On Monday they are expected to consider the role of Islam in the new constitution.

The legal system will also be debated, though the draft stops short of endorsing Islamic Sharia law.

This constitution is the route to a nation - it is necessary and compulsory, we have to approve it and then follow its laws
Dr Abdul Ghafour Noon

Many decisions may be left to the conservative Islamic clerics who hold sway over the courts.

The loya jirga is an important part of Afghanistan's history - some historians maintain the tradition goes back 1,000 years, although others dispute this.

Traditionally, loya jirgas have no time limits and continue until decisions are reached.

The BBC's Juliet Dunlop
"There are fears of a power struggle between the president and Islamic hardliners"

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