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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 May, 2005, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
Women defy Pakistan road race ban
Right activist Asma Jehangir and other runners in Lahore 21 May
Asma Jehangir: Violence is counter-productive
Hundreds of Pakistani rights activists have held a mixed-sex road race in Lahore in protest at a ban on men and women racing alongside each other.

The authorities had pledged to halt the 1km race, but police stood by and let it proceed. They used force to break up a similar event last Saturday.

Rights activist Asma Jehangir said it was a victory for law and order.

Radical religious demonstrators, who oppose women running in mixed races, were kept back by police.

The authorities realised violence and heavy-handedness are counter-productive
Rights activist Asma Jehangir

Ms Jehangir, head of the nation's Human Rights Commission, said she was "glad sense had prevailed".

"The authorities realised violence and heavy-handedness are counter-productive," she told the BBC News website.

"It was a symbolic marathon to make the point that this tyranny had to be broken."

High heels

About 500 men and women took part in the race, which underwent a last-minute route change through less visible areas of the city.

The BBC's Paul Anderson in Lahore says women participants wore traditional dress, the salwar kameez, and not all sported running shoes - some were in high heels.

It is unclear why the authorities failed to enforce the ban on the race.

Police detain opposition MP Iqbal Haider in Lahore 14 May 2005
Last Saturday's scenes were not repeated

City mayor Mian Amir had promised to stop it. He was unavailable for comment afterwards. Lahore police chief Aftab Cheema said activists had been peaceful.

Ahead of Saturday's event, a leader of the country's Islamic alliance accused race organisers of being an elite group trying to emulate the West.

The deputy parliamentary leader of the Islamic alliance, the MMA, Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, told the BBC News website: "In our culture, no parent would like to see their daughter running on the roads along with the boys and that, too, in shorts."

Moderates were outraged at police tactics last Saturday, when about 30 activists were bundled roughly into police vans and briefly detained, Ms Jehangir among them.

The ban on mixed gender races was enforced in April after Islamic hardliners attacked runners in a race in the city of Gujranwala, about 100km (60 miles) north of Lahore.


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