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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 January 2006, 12:34 GMT
Pakistani women race peacefully
Police escort athletes in Lahore mixed-sex mini marathon
Police escorted athletes taking part in the mixed-sex race in Lahore
A mixed-sex marathon passed off peacefully in Pakistan after thousands of police were deployed to stop disruption by Islamic activists.

Some 500 women took part in three races in Lahore, although 2,000 due to run had backed out over fears of violence.

Islamic protesters had demanded women be barred from taking part, arguing their presence ran counter to Islam.

But correspondents say such events are important to Pakistan's government, keen to seem a moderate Islamic state.

A total of three races were held: an exclusively male, professional run, a mixed-sex marathon and a family event which involved women and children running for 5km. Some 10,000 people took part, including 60 foreign athletes.

This is the second time Lahore has held an international marathon.

Organisers say the races have helped raise funds for the victims of the earthquake which devastated parts of northern Pakistan and Kashmir in October.

'Fun marathons'

The first race, a 42km marathon, was flagged off with much fanfare and music. People cheered on the professional athletes.

Police escort athletes in Lahore mixed-sex mini marathon
There are ways of following religion and this is not the way to follow religion, by telling women to stay off roads or not be able to participate in what they feel they want to do
Amina Sheikh, a participant

Although the race did not include any women, dozens of police trucks kept moving with the athletes as they came out of the stadium.

A much bigger police force was deployed in the second race, a 10km mixed-sex race, in which hundreds of women participated.

The third race was a family event which saw women and children running for 5km .

The races were flagged off by the chief minister of the Punjab province, who described the races as "fun marathons".

"It was better than our expectations. Security was adequate and there was no incident... I am glad, the women's participation was very encouraging," Lahore Mayor Aamir Mahood told the AFP news agency.

The six-party Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) alliance had opposed the mixing of men and women in such public events and had urged protesters to disrupt the race.

They insisted that women runners should race separately, and indoors.

On Friday police fired tear gas shells and resorted to a baton charge in and around the premises of the Islamiya College in Lahore. At least 160 people were arrested during clashes.

"There are ways of following religion and this is not the way to follow religion, by telling women to stay off roads or not be able to participate in what they feel they want to do," a participant, Amina Sheikh, told the BBC.

Attacks on runners

Last year's marathon in Lahore was the first time Pakistan had staged such an international event. It passed off peacefully even though women took part.

Right activist Asma Jehangir and other runners in Lahore 21 May 2005
Women and men staged a "symbolic mini-marathon" last May

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

In May women's rights activists defied the ban by holding a symbolic one kilometre "mini-marathon" in Lahore.

Women participants wore traditional dress, the salwar kameez, and some wore high heels rather than running shoes.

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