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Page last updated at 13:31 GMT, Wednesday, 15 April 2009 14:31 UK

Afghan 'anti-rape' women attacked

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The women were faced with counter-protesting men, who cried "Death to the slaves of the Christians"

Dozens of Afghan women who tried to protest against a new law they say legalises rape within marriage have been attacked in the capital, Kabul.

Police intervened after supporters of the law threw stones at the women and tried to seize their banners.

The law was signed by President Hamid Karzai but is currently being reviewed after criticism from abroad.

Its most controversial article says a woman must make herself available for sex with her husband when he desires.

The law's defenders say it actually protects the rights of women.

'Revisit and overturn'

Thursday's demonstration took place outside a religious centre run by a cleric who helped draft the law which is aimed at Afghanistan's Shia minority.

Shia counter-protesters
Angry supporters of the bill out-numbered women protesting against it

"We actually see it as a law that is limiting women's rights... We all stand against this law, we want a reform of the law, we want a revisit of it and overturn of it," one of the protesters, Sima Ghani, told the BBC.

Another protester said the new law was reminiscent of the worst excesses against women during the Taleban's rule of Afghanistan which ended in 2001.

The protesters were quickly swamped by hundreds of Afghans, both men and women, in a counter-demonstration.

They pelted the women with small stones and gravel as the police struggled to keep the two sides apart. Some chanted "death to the slaves of Christians".

President Karzai ordered an urgent review of the law - which he says has been misinterpreted by Western journalists - earlier this month.

It has been criticised by US President Barack Obama, the UN and Nato chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who said it went against the values of his troops.

Aides to President Karzai insist that the law in fact provides more protection for women.

The counter-demonstrators - who support the new law - insist that the legislation stops women from being harmed.

"Muslim women have rights which are stated for them in the Koran, not rights that other countries set for them. We want the rights which have been set according to Islam," one of them told the BBC.

Among the law's provisions are that

• wives are obliged to have sexual relations with their husbands at least once every four days

• women cannot leave home without their husband's permission

Critics say the law limits the rights of women from the Shia minority and authorises rape within marriage.

The law covers members of Afghanistan's Shia minority, who make up 10% of the population. A separate family law for the Sunni majority is also being drawn up.

The BBC's Martin Patience in Kabul says that the legislation has some support, particularly among conservative religious clerics who play a prominent role in public life.



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